LEICESTER, United Kingdom – A member of parliament in Northern Ireland stands by his remarks about the “Catholic IRA” while the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at the UK Parliament was questioning Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis on Wednesday.
Ian Paisley Jr. is a member of the Democratic Unionist Party, the predominantly Protestant party in Northern Ireland that favors staying part of the United Kingdom. The party – which is currently the ruling party in Northern Ireland – was founded by Paisley’s late father, known for his strong anti-Catholic views.
On Wednesday, Paisley noted that it was Holocaust Memorial Day, “where we remember victims of Holocaust and also other genocide around the world and in Northern Ireland of course we remember the border campaign and the genocide of sectarian murder where the IRA, the Catholic IRA, murdered Protestants at the border.”
The Irish Republican Army supported Irish reunification and drew most of its support from the Catholic population, although it often espoused Marxist views and was condemned by the Catholic hierarchy. From 1969 until 1998, the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland – which pitted the IRA and other nationalist paramilitary troops against the Britain and unionist paramilitary organizations – saw over 3,500 people killed.
In his questioning of Lewis, Paisley also accused the government of the Republic of Ireland of “lip service” in the issue of 500 unsolved murders of people in the Republic, whose bodies were then disposed of in Northern Ireland.
After the questioning, committee chairman Simon Hoare objected to the Paisley’s language.
“I appreciate how incredibly sensitive this is and I appreciate the huge problems and fear for their lives that the Paisley family have gone through but as a practicing Roman Catholic myself I would also just like to note that I didn’t think the way that that question was phrased was conducive to trying to move things forward,” he said.
Stephen Farry, a member of the non-sectarian Northern Ireland-based Alliance Party, said he wanted to “dissociate” himself from the comments about the “Catholic IRA.”
“IRA terrorism and indeed sectarian murders were strongly condemned by the Catholic Church, it’s nothing to do with Catholicism,” he said.
In a series of tweets, Claire Hanna – a Northern Irish member of Parliament from the moderate Catholic SDLP party – said Paisley’s remarks were “calculated and crass” and “beyond the pale, even by his low standards.”
“The IRA’s sectarian murder campaign was opposed by the vast majority of Catholics, Protestants and people of all backgrounds,” she continued.
“To seek to associate the heinous acts of any paramilitary group with a whole community is shameful. What’s worse is that Ian Paisley knows exactly what he’s doing [and] doesn’t care. The question is how long DUP’s leadership will allow him to shred relationships before they intervene,” she concluded.
On Thursday, Paisley issued a statement defending himself, claiming he made “no association of the [Roman Catholic] Church with the IRA.”
However, he noted that the victims of the IRA were “almost exclusively Protestant” and that there was “no long line of leading protestant and nonconformist sect members of the IRA.”
“The IRA is/was a sectarian murder machine – its ‘sect’ identity background is/was [Roman Catholic],” he said, according to the Irish News.
“Indeed many ask why the Church did not excommunicate IRA members,” he added.
“Are my critics really trying to sustain a position that the IRA was a non-denominational and non-sectarian and egalitarian organization?” Paisley continued. “I am afraid the uncomfortable truth of my comments are a fact.”
Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome