Paisley calls Saville inquiry a 'witchhunt of Protestants'

 

The Rev Ian Paisley tonight branded the Bloody Sunday Inquiry a "witchhunt of Protestants" after voicing his total opposition to the Derry hearing.

Following a four-hour grilling by lawyers probing the January 1972 atrocity when British soldiers shot dead 13 civil rights marchers, the Democratic Unionist Party leader hit out at the multi-million pound costs involved.

He claimed: "The tribunal is a monumental waste of time and money." Threatened with being held in contempt if he refused to attend the inquiry for a second day running, the North Antrim MP arrived to give evidence.

His appearance generated massive interest, with public galleries in the city's Guildhall packed to hear him.

Though he accepted he had been treated courteously, Mr Paisley added: "I believe that today's proceedings descended into chaos with questions that were neither focused or relevant. This is witchhunt of Protestants."

Earlier, the DUP chief's simmering resentment boiled over during clashes with Mr Michael Mansfield QC, representing relatives of some victims.

The barrister pressed him about why members of his Democratic Unionist Association in Derry called off a counter demonstration planned for Bloody Sunday at the last minute.

But Mr Paisley, who was not in the city at the time, insisted he had not been consulted on the decision.

Growing increasingly frustrated, Mr Mansfield asked: "Do you want to help the inquiry or hinder it?"

Mr Paisley told him he had opposed the hearing since the beginning. "I deplore the amount of money that has been spent on it," he said.

"I do not want to help the inquiry the way it is going at the moment."

Dressed immaculately in a dark pinstripe suit and gold shirt and tie, Mr Paisley remained calm throughout the lengthy questioning.

During a break for lunch he even displayed touches of humour, indicating inquiry chairman Lord Saville was tougher than his wife following an order not to discuss his unfinished evidence.

But there was little light relief when he accused the tribunal of politically discriminating against him.

Mr Paisley was called to explain what assurances, if any, the British Government had given to get the loyalist rally planned for what became Bloody Sunday aborted.

After entering the witness box he rejected claims he was involved in the decision to cancel the march.

"I was not aware of the situation, I had nothing to do with the organising of this parade," he insisted.

During questioning by Mr Christopher Clarke QC, counsel to the inquiry, he urged the tribunal to summons the man who made the allegations about why it was called off.

Although he refused to name him "because of a threat to his life", Mr Paisley was referring to the Rev James McClelland, vice chairman of the Democratic Unionist Association in Derry in 1972.

Mr Clarke assured him efforts were being made to secure his attendance.

Mr Paisley also confirmed he had urged security forces at the time to use live rounds against petrol bombers - but only to wound rather than kill.

"That was a deterrent that should have been used." But it was his exchanges with Mr Mansfield which generated most excitement.

Perplexed by Mr Paisley's insistence that he was in the dark about any assurances which may have been given to members of his party, the Mr Mansfield claimed he should have quizzed the vice chairman.

"Witnesses have been asked about membership of organisations that they are in, and you are in an organisation, are you not?" he asked.

The DUP leader, who will give no more evidence to the inquiry after today, hit back: "It is not an organisation, organisations in this country are usually paramilitaries.

"You do not know your language of your dictionary." The hearing was adjourned until tomorrow.

PA