Speaking at the DUP election launch in East Belfast, Paisley drew laughter from a packed audience when he complained about Cowen, calling him “that strange character from Dublin” who was “coming again to see us.”
He went on: “Somebody told me the other day the reason his lips were so thick was that when his mother was bringing him up — he was a very disobedient young boy — she used to put glue on his lips and put him to the floor and keep him there. That has been recorded in his physical make-up.”
The 77-year-old Paisley then insisted that no “foreign minister from Dublin had a right to have a say in the affairs of Northern Ireland.” When a member of the audience shouted out “Away with him,”, Paisley retorted, “Yes, away with him indeed — and if he wants to use his lips to better effect, he should do it somewhere else and go to people of like physical looks.”
SDLP Assembly member Alban Maginness called the DUP leader’s comments “very personalized and ugly.”
“These are offensive remarks by Ian Paisley who purports to be a man of God,” he said. “No one could regard those as godly remarks. . . . But we are never surprised by the DUP or its leader in terms of the sort of lurid language they use.”
Cowen dismissed the remarks. “It goes beyond the failed politics of insult,” he said. “Political contests are not beauty contests. It is great to be successful in that respect.”
A spokesman for the DUP played down the controversy. “It is the start of an election campaign. You expect a bit of rough and tumble during an election,” he said.
The comments caused a storm of adverse comment in the Irish media, but less so in the North where Paisley’s often offensive political statements are more familiar.
The “Cowen’s lips” comment is the latest in a long line of Paisley attacks on Irish ministers who set foot north of the border. For example, David Andrews, Fianna Fail minister for foreign affairs in the mid-1990s, was accused of “drinking in Jesuitical heresy with his mother’s milk.”
In 1996, Paisley called the then Fine Gael Taoiseach John Bruton a “puppet of Gerry Adams who has sold out hook, line and sinker to Sinn Fein.”
He once started a speech at an Independent Orange Order rally in the predominantly Catholic town of Ballycastle, Co. Antrim, with the words “Fascism, the child of Romanism, is not dead.” During the course of that speech he said that “World War II is being fought out in Northern Ireland today” between the “Hitlerite beast of the IRA” and its “jackboot and gas chamber mentality” toward the Protestants of Ulster.
Two years ago, he said that 19th century nationalist leader Daniel O’Connell was “rightly accused of all kinds of sexual deviancy, a pronounced Roman sectarian,” and that the current British cabinet is full of “homosexuals and partnerships without marriage, perverts, provocateurs and perjurers.”
In recent years, Paisley has attacked his one-time ally in the ranks of hard-line Unionism, David Trimble. He said on one occasion: “It is Trimble’s regime who has made it an abnormal society under the auspices of the agreement. The truth is that the so-called Good Friday agreement has the potential that those who signed up to it wanted — the potential destruction of this province, this place in the United Kingdom.”