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Last Updated: Friday, 8 June 2007, 06:59 GMT 07:59 UK
If you ask me....
Fionola Meredith
By Fionola Meredith - BBC Hearts and Minds
A personal view on the week's events

Hearing Ian Paisley's idyllic vision of a new Northern Ireland, free of hatred and discrimination, I couldn't help thinking of the episode of the TV series Father Ted where curmudgeonly Father Jack Hackett is miraculously transformed into a crooning Val Doonican-like character, skipping through meadows, singing by the fireside and playing with cute Labrador puppies.

Ian Knox cartoon
Paisley "gets to patronise McGuinness"

This is a similarly stunning metamorphosis. I think the Big Man is loving every minute of his elevation to full-blown statesmanship.

For a start, he gets to patronise Martin McGuinness in a matey, back-slapping kind of way, calling him "the deputy" as often as possible.

Remember when European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso popped in for a chat with the pair?

Paisley said that, next time he came, he would introduce Mr Barroso to the delights of Ulster fadge, or potato bread, adding that "the deputy" would "gobble up" any of the leftovers.

It made McGuinness sound like an eager hound, happy to hoover up scraps from his master's table. A kind of Deputy Dawg, perhaps.

The days when you could say that lesbian and gay relationships are immoral, offensive and obnoxious have gone the way of Ulster says No

As king of our statelet, Paisley has come over all avuncular with new-found tolerance and respect.

But his son, Ian, junior minister in OFMDFM, is a bit slow to catch on to the all-inclusive message.

Come on Ian Junior, do keep up! The days when you could say that lesbian and gay relationships are "immoral, offensive and obnoxious" have gone the way of "Ulster says No".

Unfamiliar discourse of equality

Now it's "yes I said yes I will yes", as Molly Bloom so delicately put it. All that macho bluster and swaggering heterosexualism - that's so last millennium, darling.

As a chorus of indignation has rightly pointed out, you can't go round saying you're "repulsed" by gay people, and claiming that they harm society, when you're a minister in a department charged with protecting their rights.

But it's clear that the DUP are tentatively trying out the unfamiliar discourse of equality, surfing the zeitgeist of niceness.

Ian Paisley
"There's no evidence that Ian Senior feels any differently"

Sure, didn't we just witness the sight of Ballymena DUP mayor Maurice Mills welcoming the SDLP's PJ McAvoy as the first ever nationalist deputy on Ballymena Borough Council?

I wonder if Mr Mills has also changed his mind about Hurricane Katrina blowing away all the sinful gay people in New Orleans a couple of years ago?

You see, it's easy to invoke Martin Luther King, to make grand, visionary, all-embracing speeches about a world without discrimination, swaddling us in a blanket of emollient words.

But there's no evidence that Ian Senior feels any differently about lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people than Ian Junior.

He's a canny old bird, though, and he knows that you can't say those things these days.

In entering government, the DUP have inherited a liberal, rights-based structure that in many ways seems profoundly alien to their insular, sin-haunted world view.

But it's their job to implement it, like it or not. And anyway, there is still hope for change.

After all, if the DUP can get their heads around power-sharing with Sinn Fein, the gay stuff should be wee buns.

Hearts and Minds, 1930 BST Thursday, BBC2 Northern Ireland




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