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Last Updated: Monday, 21 January 2008, 13:08 GMT
Street smart Paisley says goodbye
By Gareth Gordon
BBC NI political correspondent

Ian Paisley announced his intention to step down last September
Ian Paisley announced his intention to step down last September
We said goodbye to a legend on Friday night.

White of hair, full of "attitude" and liked and disliked in equal measures. But more about Vera Duckworth later.

So let's consider first that other great institution, closer to home, who walked quietly from one of his many stages on Friday as well.

Compared to Ian Paisley, Vera Duckworth was a relative newcomer.

After all she was only in Corrie a mere 33 years - a blink compared to the 57 years (with one brief interlude) that Mr Paisley dominated his Free Presbyterian Church.

And while Vera's demise was somewhat final, the Big Man lives to fight another day as MP for North Antrim; DUP leader and first minister - quite enough for any 81-year-old to be getting on with.

Apparently, (I cannot confirm this as I was elsewhere at the time) a devastated Jack Duckworth stared in disbelief as the body of his beloved Vera was taken away in a tear-jerking episode of the Street undoubtedly watched by millions.

Turbulent times

There were rather fewer of us who watched on as a very much alive Ian Paisley walked alone from Dungannon Free Presbyterian Church a few hours later towards the nearby hall with "Christ For Ulster" above the door which, of course, he himself had officially opened in slightly less turbulent times.

And there he cut a rather lonely figure as he enjoyed a first cup of tea as a mere minister - but no longer moderator - of the church he founded in 1951.

The Coronation Street scriptwriters had penned three different versions of Vera's demise with viewers kept in the dark until the last moment.

There was no way of seeing behind the brave face he decided to wear

We faced something similar in a wet and bleak Dungannon on Friday night.

Ian Paisley could have stuck to his original decision taken on a rather more dramatic night in September to step down; he could have gone back on his decision and put his name forward and won; or he could have put his name forward and suffered a humiliating defeat.

There was little doubt about which option he would choose and as he stood on the church steps to introduce his successor, the Rev Ron Johnstone, he looked a little reluctant to go back inside - taking question after question from reporters - with the new moderator desperately trying to persuade him otherwise.

Possibly he was relieved; possibly he was sad... there was no way of seeing behind the brave face he decided to wear for the night.

There was only one brief flash of the old firebrand when asked about an Irish Times report that he's to step down as an MP at the next election.

Debate

"No Dublin newspaper will drive me out of a job" he told us - though it was a comment strong on style but probably weak on substance.

Truth is his political future has long been a discussion within the DUP - and he knows it very well.

There's still a degree of debate, even within the church, about how his leaving came about.

Did he jump or was he pushed?

Though there's not much doubt that this is not how he would have chosen to go.

Some now argue that if he can be ousted as moderator of the church that for many people he still defines, then all bets are off as far as the party is concerned as well.

He could decide to go of his own volition - even if his remarks on Friday night would not lead one to conclude that's a likely outcome any time soon.

However, anyone who would decide to move against him would be advised to proceed with the utmost caution.

Rev Ron Johnstone
Rev Ron Johnstone is the new moderator

As someone who is immune to the attractions of Coronation Street myself I was oblivious to the fact that Ian Paisley wasn't the only institution to go on Friday night.

But an aquaintance, who's job took them into several homes on Friday night, put me right.

"I couldn't get a thing done," she told me, "everyone was glued to the screen."

That wasn't the case with Ian Paisley.

Once the story would have been a sensation but everyone knows the times are changing.

He may have more in common with the old Coronation Street stalwart than he knows.

She had hubby Jack and her wayward son Terry to contend with.

At this stage, those expecting any mention of Ian Paisley Jr are to be disappointed.



SEE ALSO
Church political ties 'must end'
10 Sep 07 |  Northern Ireland
Paisley to step down as moderator
08 Sep 07 |  Northern Ireland
Paisley-SF move 'heartbreaking'
23 Nov 06 |  Northern Ireland
Protest as moderator installed
08 Jun 04 |  Northern Ireland
Church brands line-dancing 'sinful'
17 May 01 |  Northern Ireland

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