What do Peter Robinson,Ian Paisley Jr, and Barry McElduff have in common? Well, not much, actually. Ian Paisley is a devoted unionist, despite his brief flirtation with being the de Klerk figure of his community, Barry McElduff is a devoted republican from West Tyrone who had a holy water font inside the door of his Stormont office, and Peter Robinson is a former First Minister who would trust a Muslim to go to the corner shop and buy milk. But they are all united by the fact that they were exposed to a ferocious political storm.
Peter, you’ll remember, came through the nightmare of Irisgate, Barry’s political career crashed and burned over a loaf of bread, and Ian Paisley Jr has been found, it would seem, with his hand jammed in the political cookie jar.
In two of the three cases, there are similarities, at least in the response of the person at the centre of it. Peter Robinson, you’ll remember, went on television and made a husky, verge-of-tears appeal to his supporters, with a carefully arranged Best-Dad-In-The –World card visible directly behind him. Ian Paisley Jr used the House of Commons as his setting for a brimming-eyes-gulp-overcome-with-emotion appeal to his electorate and a ‘fulsome apology’ for his conduct. Barry McElduff stood outside the Sinn Féin office and said what every reporter and politician knew was true, that he hadn’t a skin-flake of sectarianism about him. He then resigned from his MLA post.
By now you’ve probably spotted the difference. The two DUP politicians hung onto their position with a vice-like grip and as good as begged their constituency to have pity on them. It worked for Robinson, it remains to be seen if it’ll work for Paisley. McElduff doesn’t do fake emotion and in a dry, matter-of-fact way accepted his fate.
Which of the three men acted with most dignity when the going got unbearable? McElduff, indisputably. Robinson has left politics voluntarily and contents himself with occasional comments on the cock-up his successor is making of things. And Paisley? Paisley has been exposed as a man who took somewhere between £50,000 and £100,000 worth of luxury from a foreign state, urged the British PM not to support investigation of human rights violations in that country, and tried to hide the whole thing from everyone: from the PM, from the House of Commons and from his constituents. He is now betting that his teary-eyed appeal will be enough to persuade his constituents to ignore the unholy backhanders and deception he’s engaged in.
If they do, we’ll know something sort of frightening about the standards that unionist voters are happy with. Providing it’s one of their own, that is; if it’s the other lot, they’re merciless.