Galway is confused, but he's right about Paisley
For his own sake, the brilliant musician James Galway should stay well away from politics, says Ruth Dudley Edwards
CRITICAL: James Galway outraged some unionists with his
harsh words about Ian Paisley and his role in the Troubles
There was uproar in Northern Ireland last week over a row started by a flute player. And, no, I don't mean one of those in a garish uniform who occasionally misbehave outside a Roman Catholic Church. I mean Sir James Galway.
"The Man with the Golden Flute" came from a materially poor but musically rich family that was part of the strong band-culture that is a glory of the Ulster Protestant tradition.
At 11, James Galway won the junior, senior and open Belfast flute championships all on the same day, and a life of international achievement, riches and respect followed.
Unfortunately for his peace of mind, on a musical visit to Belfast, he was interviewed on radio by Stephen Nolan, who is as wily as he is dogged. Questioned about politics, Galway asked who would want to be ruled by a bunch of thugs and killers, and pushed to explain, said; "I'm not sure who's actually doing the killing". He was too naive to insist on changing the subject on the reasonable grounds that he'd lived away from Northern Ireland for almost 60 years - most of the time on the Continent - and had just admitted he wasn't "into politics" and didn't "keep up".
Under subtle pressure he went on hesitantly giving some incoherent and sometimes bizarre takes on history that included blaming Presbyterians for keeping the school system separate while making no mention of the Catholic Church which fought and still fights an integrated system tooth and claw. He was, I believe, doing what I consider the honourable thing of seeking to be objective about one's own tribe rather than automatically blame the other, but, as he said rather piteously and had clearly demonstrated, he wasn't sure what he was saying "because no one brought me into this conversation before".
Yet having come from East Belfast, which was not short of bigots, when he was asked if there would be less conflict if people were less religious, Galway responded with more clarity: "Let's talk about Ian Paisley. He was a religious leader. How many people do you think he was responsible for killing indirectly? By planting the thoughts of violence and no surrender in the heads of people who had no more sense . . . he wasn't exactly preaching let's all live together, was he?"
There was plenty to annoy unionist listeners, but various idiocies apart, it was what he said about Paisley that got many people worked up, particularly the Paisley family and the DUP. Yet he wasn't too far wrong about the old bigot.
Lord (David) Trimble, whom Paisley replaced as First Minister, was dragged into the row, and, I thought, got to the heart of the issue. "Had there been no Ian Paisley, would we have had the Troubles?" he asked. "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."
Trimble is a lawyer, and big on precise language, and so pointed out clearly that he was not saying Paisley caused the Troubles or bore "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." He clarified later that he was suggesting Paisley "bears a responsibility for the outbreak of the Troubles": not for murders committed during them.
Not the first time, I'm with Trimble. Paisley was a man of exceptional gifts who mostly used them to appalling effect. He was ISIS-like in his belief that everyone who didn't agree with him about everything was a heretic, and his thunderous, belligerent hate-speech targeted most Protestants as well as Catholics, and, as well as republicans, all unionist politicians who believed in compromise.
His powerful rhetoric had a dreadful effect on vulnerable, gullible audiences. "Go back to the very start," said Trimble. "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."
Trimble added that though Paisley had "mellowed considerably" in his latter years, he "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" . . . There's nothing unusual in what James Galway said. It's just he, like me, [is] old enough to remember what happened then."
The DUP's Gregory Campbell issued a furious statement denouncing Trimble's "disgraceful" comments. "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."
That response is depressingly blinkered. Sinn Fein are arch-revisionists intent on airbrushing the IRA's record in Northern Ireland: it doesn't help that the DUP are doing the same for their founder.
James Galway wasn't wrong about everything.