Northern Ireland’s ruling Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) used to fear the baleful machinations of Rome and the Pope.
How times change.
Now their fear and loathing is more often directed at another highly influential international denomination: the gays.
The week after 39 months of service in which he managed to offend almost everyone in the UK, Edwin Poots, the beleaguered top tier DUP health minister with the name to delight Charles Dickens, was finally let go.
Poots, a Young Earth Creationist who believes our planet is no more than 6,000 years old, does not believe in the Big Bang theory.
“You're telling me that cosmic balls of dust gathered and there was an explosion,” he said in a debate. “We've had lots of explosions in Northern Ireland and I've never seen anything come out of that that was good.”
Dinosaurs, if they even existed, were all drowned in Noah’s flood, he suggested. If you have any other questions they can be handily answered in the Bible - thank you and goodnight.
But one issue exercised the former health ministers ire above all others during his troubled tenure: gay rights.
Poots was adamantly against them. He was against marriage equality, he was against gay couples adopting, and he fought to maintain a ban on gay men giving blood.
Last year he called equal rights efforts for gay people as an attack “on Christian views and ethics.” A win for gays was a loss for unionism he suggested. Sound familiar? Once “them uns” was the feared nationalists, now apparently its the gays.
In fact Poots’ unvarnished contempt for gays inspired 10,000 people to sign a petition calling for resignation. And this week they (more or less) got it.
But the news of Poots getting the boot was not announced to the press - instead it was live Tweeted, like a football score, by the north’s first minister Peter Robinson - a first.
In Poots’ place Robinson appointed Jim Wells, 57, the DUP member for South Down. Wells is a Young Earth Creationist who believes our planet is no more than 6,000 years old.
Yes, another one. Call it creationist whack-a-mole time. It’s not that Northern Ireland is short of academic talent, it’s just that the doors don’t ever seem to open there for the brightest and best.
Wells - the new health minister - also believes that women made pregnant through rape should not be permitted an abortion.
“In Northern Ireland there are hundreds of married couples who would love to adopt children, a child, a baby, and who could give support in that situation,” Wells told Radio Ulster, suggesting women make lemonade of life’s regrettable lemons.
Then he added that he opposed any change in the abortion law because “the stats are very low for pregnancies as a result of rape.”
Your female body will prevent you from conceiving if it knows the sex was under duress. Yes, these are the words of a minister for health in a province where they were not seen to be a hindrance to his appointment.
Of course it’s magical thinking, but so is a great deal of what Wells fervently believes.
But this week it was Wells’ odd actions on social media within hours of his new appointment that have startled many. No sooner had his post been announced but he began blocking hundreds of his critics on Twitter, a remarkable move from a career politician.
Some asked him reproductive rights questions, some asked him LGBT rights questions, some hurled invective - all were blocked.
The sheer numbers getting the boot from Wells had the hashtag #blockedbywells soon trending across Northern Ireland. Many who had never engaged him before found they were blocked before they even tried, as though he possessed an eerie sixth sense.
Perhaps he fears the successful #givepootstheboot campaign could soon morph into #givewellsthewelly, as sure enough it was doing on Twitter by nightfall.
It’s certain that in the weeks ahead these two old DUP pros will probably find time to console each other, since their natural habitat seems to be getting smaller and smaller.
For the rest of us, ironically enough, they’re all the proof we need that some dinosaurs still roam the earth.
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