Ian Paisley tells Max Hasting to 'get over' £50,000 BBC payout for on-air criticisms of his father
JOURNALIST and historian Max Hastings has lamented the BBC's decision to pay the late Ian Paisley damages for airing his criticisms of the DUP founder and former leader.
But his remarks have prompted a stinging rebuke from the former Free Presbyterian Church leader's son, Ian Paisley Jr, who has told Mr Hastings to "get over it".
The one-time Daily Telegraph editor-in-chief, who recently predicted a united Ireland "within a generation", recalled the libel episode in his regular column in the the Times yesterday, drawing parallels with the BBC's decision to fund journalist Martin Bashir’s legal representation at the independent inquiry into his 1995 TV interview with Princess Diana.
"The BBC has a long history of being careless with licence-payers’ cash in legal matters," Mr Hastings claimed.
"Almost 20 years ago on Radio 4’s Sunday morning show I referred to Ian Paisley’s evil role in the 1969 onset of the Irish Troubles."
He recalled how weeks after making the remarks he was contacted by a BBC representative, who said that if he signed an apology, the broadcaster would be responsible for the £50,000 it proposed to pay the then Lord Paisley in damages.
"I was outraged. As a reporter, I witnessed what the former hellfire preacher contributed towards igniting Ulster’s tragedy. I had often previously in print characterised him in similar terms."
He said the then head of Radio 4 declined to discuss the matter.
"I inclined to refuse to endorse the apology, more so after a BBC lawyer telephoned from Belfast. He was so shocked by the proposal to enrich Paisley that he offered to represent me free if I would fight," he wrote.
"My friend Robert Harris dissuaded me. What would I gain? The case would waste an appalling amount of time and emotional energy, for an outcome no one would notice. I signed, the BBC grovelled, and Paisley got £50,000 of licence money."
But in a strongly worded response to the acclaimed journalist and military historian, who lived in Kilkenny in the 1970s while reporting on the Troubles, Ian Paisley Jr accused Mr Hastings of making the "same regurgitated comment that he regrets" on a regular basis.
"The most important thing about an apology is that it should be sincerely made and accepted with grace," the North Antrim MP told The Irish News.
"One can only judge from the comments made today that Max has zero sincerity and even less grace about this matter."
The former Stormont junior minister said the one-time BBC foreign correspondent had the opportunity to challenge the payout.
"He failed to take up that challenge when my father was alive and able to defend himself but now years after my father has passed away he wishes to present 'his truth' – oh please," Mr Paisley said.
"Well good luck to ya! He didn’t take the fight up at the time, or at any point when he had a chance to do so and now chooses to yell at the wind. One can only assume he knew he would be on a losing side."