- 20 Jun 07
Ian Paisley Jnr.’s observations about gays in a recent Hot Press interview have drawn accusations of bigotry.
With the Northern Ireland Assembly finally being implemented last month, Hot Press felt it’d be apt to carry out a couple of in-depth interviews with some of the prominent members of the new government.
Ian Paisley Jnr. had been installed as a junior minister in the department of the First and Deputy First Minister, with responsibilities for equality – a department that recently vowed to substantially fund several gay projects in Northern Ireland. Given that he had expressed an aversion to homosexuality in the past, it seemed like he might make an interesting interview. Might he have undergone a Pauline conversion?
When I met Paisley in Stormont, he brought me down to the basement cafeteria; he was famished and wanted to eat while we got on with the exchange. It’s never ideal, doing interviews in public places: apart entirely from the inevitable distractions, it can be difficult to get the subject to be candid while within the earshot of others. But Ian seemed to have no inhibitions about being outspoken and was refreshingly willing to discuss any issue while he ate his soup and roll.
At one stage during the impromptu lunch, Paisley called over one of his aids and said he wanted him to make sure his speech that day in the Assembly would be picked up by the media. “I want radio and television,” he ordered. It was obvious that the junior minister had an appetite for publicity.
We spent about 20 minutes in the cafeteria but I became increasingly paranoid that the constant clattering of cutlery and loud chatter at nearby tables might make our conversation inaudible on tape. When I explained this to Ian, he brought me up to his office: immediately the conversation took on a different dimension as he became less light-hearted and witty, and more revealing in what he had to say.
During the course of what was an extensive interview, Paisley jokingly stated that he would have to be “very, very cautious” talking to me because of the “huge publicity” resulting from my recent Hot Press interview with Brian Cowen, who had admitted on tape, in relation to cannabis, that “unlike President Clinton, I did inhale!”
Brian Cowan and Ian Paisley Jnr have in common a likeably direct kind of honesty. Despite his intended caution, Paisley was uninhibited in what he had to say about gays, insisting in a lengthy summation of his Free Presbyterian view of homosexuality that he is “pretty repulsed by gay and lesbianism” – and adding that, while he doesn’t hate gays, he hates “what they do”.
As a result, the interview generated even more media coverage than Cowen’s Hot Press interview, with the story making headlines internationally. BBC, RTÉ and TV3 all carried it on the main evening news. The headline in the Daily Mail, ‘Bigotry Is Back’, was fairly typical – with one commentator observing in the Sunday Independent that Paisley is “a man who possibly pips Vladimir Putin and Poland’s Kaczynski brothers for the mantle of Europe’s most homophobic politician.” Directly as a result of the hotpress interview, the SDLP have tabled an Assembly motion of censure against Paisley.
The day Hot Press hit the shelves, I saw the name “Ian Paisley Jnr” flash up as an incoming call on my mobile. As I picked up the phone, I had a sneaking fear that Paisley was about to launch into a tirade of invective. Far from it, he was charm personified. He loved the Hot Press interview: it was, he said, very fair and he was encouraging everybody to read it. Before he hung up, he asked if I could forward a couple of extra copies to his house.
It was, I thought, the least we could do in the circumstances…