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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

The New Wolfe Tone?

Controversial political journalist Dr John Coulter compares First Minister Designate and DUP boss Rev Ian Paisley with another Irish Protestant icon Wolfe Tone to see if there are any striking similarities in the two men's respective rise to power.



Dr John Coulter • 16 April 2007

Ian Paisley Senior is Ireland's new Wolfe Tone, the iconic DUP boss who will lead most of Northern Protestantism into a fresh Irish political dawn on 8 May.

Next year marks the 210th anniversary of the death of the legendary Protestant revolutionary in November 1798 after the failure of the United Irishmen's rebellion against the English Government.

Ironically, next month marks the 30th anniversary of Paisley's failed United Unionist Action Committee strike to protest against the English Government's security policy in May 1977.

Paisley also demanded the return of majority government in the North, but many factories stayed open and the crucial Ballylumford power-station workers refused to back the strike.

There are many parallels between Paisley and Tone, although the latter has been firmly claimed as a republican hero. But using Paisley, Unionist culture can equally lay claim to Tone as one of Ireland's famous Protestant sons.

In October 1791, Tone formed the predominantly Protestant Society of United Irishmen which worked for parliamentary reform of the English Government in Ireland. In the late 1960s, Paisley formed the Protestant Unionist Party to campaign against Terence O'Neill's reforms in the Stormont Government.

Tone's rebellion in 1798 flopped because the English establishment used the fledgling Orange Order to split the United Irishmen. Another factor why Paisley's '77 strike flopped was the Orange Grand Lodge's refusal to call its members onto the streets to support the would-be loyalist militants.

Paisley and Tone also share some personal traits. Both are brilliantly articulate as public speakers; both are known for their cleverness, humour and personality; neither view themselves as nationalists, and both developed a talent for writing in journals.

As a military operation, Tone's revolt was a catastrophic failure, but it did succeed in mobilising radical Irish Presbyterianism into a cohesive political force.

Paisley used his fundamentalist Free Presbyterian Church as the bedrock of the DUP, which in less than a generation has become the lead voice for Unionism.

But it is in developing an all-island identity for Protestantism which Paisley's legacy as First Minister will be most remembered.

His meetings with Bertie Ahern in Dublin, the Irish Catholic Church's hierarchy and the public photocall with Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams are all proof Paisley seems determined to move Unionism out of the trenches of purely being a six-county movement.

In their respective pasts, Paisley and Tone were prepared to use force of arms to achieve their ends. In 1796, Tone unveiled his blueprint for a French invasion of Ireland, and even amassed a force of 43 ships and almost 14,000 men.

In November 1981, Paisley reviewed a massive parade of his Ulster Third Force paramilitary group in Newtownards. Half a decade later in 1986, he donned the notorious red beret to give his backing to another paramilitary group, Ulster Resistance.

At Tone's trial in Dublin in November 1798, he defiantly proclaimed his undying hostility to England and his desire “in fair and open war to produce the separation of the two countries”.

In media interviews, Paisley has explained his decision to 'do the deal' with SF as his desire to protect 'Loyal Ulster' from London's so-called Plan B, which was joint authority of the North by Dublin and Westminster.

But some strange questions still persist. Would the Brits ever have mooted a Plan B if the Paisleyites had gone ahead with a deal in December 2004, a year after becoming the largest Unionist party in the November 2003 Stormont poll? That deal supposedly collapsed over a photo.

In pledging his support to a power-sharing Executive on 8 May, Paisley has gone further in his dealings with republicanism than any other Unionist leader, or even any other Protestant champion since Oliver Cromwell and King Billy himself.

This poses yet another teaser for Irish Protestantism – has Paisley even more new routes for Unionism to follow? How long before Unionism adopts speaking rights in the Dail, the DUP opens an office in Dublin, and Unionist candidates contest seats in Leinster House?

And what happens if the DUP has a chance to take up seats in the Irish Senate? It was only a matter of months ago, people laughed at the thought of a DUP/SF power-sharing government at Stormont.

So don't laugh too soon at the notion of DUP politicians addressing the Dail and Senate. Charles Stewart Parnell and John Redmond, the legendary Irish nationalist parliamentarians, may have deemed themselves as the successors to Wolfe Tone.

Given how the First Minister designate is preparing for power on 8 May, it is clear Ian Paisley should be given Tone's true mantel of Ireland's leading Protestant radical. Then again, Paisley's opponents within Unionism may yell – don't cry wolf too often!



















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Index: Current Articles

24 April 2007

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Which Way We Are Facing
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Whither Traditional Republicanism?
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The Drumcree Conspiracy
John Kennedy

We Must Deal Openly With The Past
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What Was It All For?
Antaine Uas O'Labhradha

The New Wolfe Tone?
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Felon Setting
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UVF Threats Further Proof of Political Policing
Press Release: 32 County Sovereignty Movement

Widgery II
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Easter Statement
Republican Socialist Youth Movement

Commemoration Report
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The Road Ahead for the UUP
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What's Good for the Goose is Good for the Gander!
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David Ervine
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Back to the Old RUC Ways
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Statement from the Morley Family
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