A dispute about the legacy of Rev Ian Paisley took a fresh twist yesterday after a former First Minister said the Troubles would probably not have occurred without him.
David Trimble said that while his DUP rival did not bear sole blame for the Troubles, he never truly addressed his own role in creating them during the 1960s.
The DUP hit back last night, saying that Lord Trimble was “factually wrong” in his analysis, and that shifting the blame for paramilitary crimes away from the perpetrators would “only serve to let the terrorists off the hook”.
Lord Trimble was speaking in the wake of a controversy sparked by internationally-renowned Ulster musician James Galway, who last week claimed Rev Paisley was “indirectly responsible” for murders carried out during the Troubles.
Sir James Galway told the BBC’s Nolan Show last week: “How many people do you think he [Rev Ian Paisley] was responsible for killing indirectly by planting the thoughts of violence and no surrender in the heads of people who had no more sense?”
Ex-UUP leader Lord Trimble, who battled against Rev Paisley to secure the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, was asked by the News Letter about Sir James’ remarks.
He replied that he sometimes asks people to conduct a “little thought experiment” by considering a question.
“Had there been no Ian Paisley, would we have had the Troubles?” asked the former First Minister.
“Probable answer: No.
“The probability is: no Paisley, no Troubles.
“Now it’s not a certainty, but that’s the probability.
“I think people ought to remember that because everybody who lived through that time knew that.”
He added: “Let me put it in context. I just said: Had there been no Paisley, would there have been the Troubles? Probably not.
“That is not the same thing as saying that he caused the Troubles. That’s not the same thing as saying that he bears a unique blame for it.
“Lots of other people bear a responsibility as well. I’m not putting the sole blame for the Troubles on him. But I’m saying that he was a very significant factor in creating them...
“Go back to the very start. Who were the people responsible for all the bombings in, what was it, 1968? The bombings of the power supplies and all the rest of it?
“They were Paisleyites.”
He added: “This is not an exceptional statement.
“People said this about him at the time he was alive.”
Lord Trimble said the DUP founder had “mellowed considerably” in his latter years, but “never tried to deal with” his role in the ’60s, and “will never be able to escape his historic responsibilities for what he did in the ’60s”.
Some in the DUP want to “airbrush” his record, Lord Trimble said, saying that lots of Sinn Fein members also want to take a similar approach to the past.
He added: “There’s nothing unusual in what James Galway said. It’s just he, like me, [is] old enough to remember what happened then.”
Asked specifically whether he backed the claim that Rev Paisley was “indirectly responsible” for murders which were committed during the course of the Troubles, he said: “No. I’m not talking about ‘responsible for murders’.
“I’m just saying he bears a responsibility for the outbreak of the Troubles. That’s a slightly different proposition.”
The DUP issued a statement last night from East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell.
It read: “David Trimble’s comments are disgraceful. The IRA campaign of 1952-62 was long before Ian Paisley came to prominence and terrorists still exist after his death.
“Trimble is factually wrong. The people responsible for the Troubles were the terrorists and anyone trying to place the blame elsewhere only serves to let the terrorists off the hook.
“Trimble is allowing his desire for revisionism to get in the way of reality.”