The world renowned flautist Sir James Galway has sparked controversy by saying that the late Rev Ian Paisley was “indirectly responsible” for killings in Northern Ireland.
Mr Paisley died in 2014 at the age of 88.
Sir James was originally from Belfast and was brought up as a Protestant and a Unionist. However, he said he was never an admirer of Mr Paisley, the former First Minister of Northern Ireland and leader of the Democratic Unionist Party.
Mr Paisley was one of Northern Ireland’s most prominent Unionist figures for more than 50 years and leader of the Free Presbyterian Church. A charismatic speaker, he often launched scathing attacks on Republicanism and the Catholic Church. His vehement cry of “No Surrender” to Republicanism became a rallying call for thousands of Unionists.
Speaking about Mr Paisley on the Nolan Show on BBC Radio Ulster, Sir James said: “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? I’m sure he was (responsible) because he wasn’t exactly preaching let’s all live together, was he? How can you justify setting one side against another? On paper he was a man of God but in reality he never was.”
Mr Paisley was the leader of Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) when it entered into the historic agreement to share power with Sinn Féin in 2007. However, Sir James said Mr Paisley may only have entered into the agreement because he didn’t have any choice.
Sir James received a knighthood from the Queen in 2001 but said he thought himself as Irish, and supported the idea of united Ireland, saying “I would like Ireland to be Ireland. [People] say: Well, how do you become a sir? I say: Because I come from the British-occupied part of Ireland.”
He also criticised the way Britain had conquered and ruled Ireland for centuries.
“Wouldn’t you say it is immoral for one country to take over another country just because the other country is not so well armed? Wouldn’t you think that was immoral?
“Well, let me put this to you – would you not think that 800 years ago what the British did was immoral and is still immoral?”
Sir James said that as a Protestant growing up in Northern Ireland he was brainwashed to the Protestant ethic by politicians and by the “Presbyterians who made the schools systems separate”.
A spokesman for the Presbyterian Church told the BBC that Sir James’ remarks were “neither historically or factually accurate. The Presbyterian Church in Ireland transferred our schools to state control in the 1920s and 1930s.”
Following Sir James’ comments, Sammy Wilson of the DUP, issued a statement saying: “The Paisley family have requested that we do not comment on Sir James’s remarks because of pending legal action. We respect this request. However, we will always defend Dr Paisley’s record as a leader of Unionism. During the interview, Sir James indicated that he doesn’t take much interest in politics and perhaps he should have kept it that way.”
Mr Wilson, who is the MP for East Antrim, added: “I have always admired Sir James’ work, but some of his comments were offensive, inaccurate and downright disgraceful. Sir James’s interview will have discredited him with many admirers.
“For Sir James to express his pro-republican viewpoint [and] criticise Northern Ireland being part of the United Kingdom but then accept a knighthood from our monarch is hypocritical. If Sir James’s views are so dearly held then he should probably consider handing back the knighthood.”
Following the interview and the reaction it caused, Sir James, who now lives in Switzerland, issued a statement saying: “Music is my life and love. We all have our views on life. I am here today to celebrate music. I love Northern Ireland and it is never my intent to cause offence.”
People in the UK can listen to Sir James talking to Stephen Nolan on the BBC iPlayer. It may not be available in other countries.