Northern Ireland's Ian Paisley to resign and retire

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Ian Paisley in 2007.
Image: MaxM.

The First Minister of Northern Ireland and leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, Ian Paisley, 81, has announced he is resigning the positions of First Minister and DUP leader after what some believe is internal pressure from within the party. He originally announced he would govern for his full term till 2011.

Paisley plans to step down after an investment conference in May organized by the power-sharing Northern Ireland Executive.

Paisley told reporters, "I could go on and on but I've decided to go, I came to this decision a few weeks ago when I was thinking very much about the conference and what was going to come after the conference, I thought that it is a marker, a very big marker, and it would be a very appropriate time for me to bow out." Paisley noted he is not fully retiring as he will remain on the back benches at Stormont, the location of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Paisley has been a controversial, divisive figure in Northern Ireland politics throughout his five decades of involvement. Until his acceptance of the First Minister position with political rival and enemy and Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness, a former IRA commander, Paisley was nicknamed Dr. No for his refusal to grant any concessions to the Irish nationalists or republicans and his working with McGuinness would have been unheard of ten years ago.

I could go on and on but I've decided to go.

—Ian Paisley, First Minister of Northern Ireland

His announcement is believed to be in part because of this relationship with McGuinness, the two political rivals were photographed together enjoying a laugh, earning them the nickname, the "Chuckle Brothers."

Hard-line factions within the DUP are not happy with Paisley sharing power with Sinn Fein, which they see as inextricably linked to the Provisional Irish Republican Army. Paisley used to refer to the party in political discourse as "Sinn Fein/IRA."

Paisley is known for fundamentalist anti-Catholic views and stances and helped to form the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster in 1951 as part of a disagreement between a local church in Crossgar, County Down and the elders of the county church governance. Paisley was forced to retire in January due to his political role as First Minister and possibly, his power-sharing with Sinn Fein.

The announcement comes one month before the tenth anniversary of Good Friday Agreement which ended the thirty year-long period of conflict know as the "The Troubles" in which violence occurred between the nationalist and republican and the unionist and loyalist communities of Northern Ireland in the form of bombings, assassinations and gang violence.

It also comes a month after Ian Paisley's son, Ian Paisley Jr resigned after accusations and criticism over links with property developer, Seymour Sweeney and controversy over lobbying. Paisley Junior noted today that he was transferring of the ownership of the firm which runs his constituency office in Ballymena to a representative of a north Antrim DUP branch.

Peter Robinson, the deputy leader and Northern Ireland Finance Minister is the likely choice to succeed Paisley, but some sources with in the party would not discount Northern Ireland Finance Minister Nigel Dodds either.

Paisley's reaction to choosing his succesor was, "This is not the Church of Rome. This is not Apostolic succession and I have no right to say who will succeed me."


  The man famous for saying 'no' will go down in history for saying 'yes'.  

—Tony Blair, former British Prime Minister

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown noted, "Ian Paisley has made a huge contribution to political life in Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom. The whole country values and admires the manner in which he has led as First Minister."

"His commitment and dedication to public service deserve our gratitude. Progress on bringing a lasting peace to Northern Ireland would not have been possible without his immense courage and leadership."

Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern also gave his feelings on Paisley, "The announcement by Dr Ian Paisley that he will step down from the post of First Minister is a watershed in the history of Ireland. He is a giant figure in the history of these islands. In recent years, I have grown to know Dr. Paisley and have valued the practical and friendly working relationship that developed between us. I respect him as a man who worked tirelessly for the people he represents and who has sincerely done what he believed was right."

Tony Blair, the former British Prime Minister who was instrumental in restarting devolution said, "Ian Paisley's contribution to peace, after all the years of division and difference was decisive and determinative. In short, in the final analysis, he made it happen. The man famous for saying 'no' will go down in history for saying 'yes'."

Martin McGuinness, the Deputy First Minister gave his reaction, "Ian Paisley has played a very powerful role in the course of the politics of the north of Ireland and the island of Ireland. The historic decision he took to go into government with Sinn Fein has changed the face of Irish politics forever. I think that he will be fondly remembered by the people of Ireland - north and south - for the very courageous leadership that he showed."

Peter Robinson, Paisley's deputy said of his leader, "When violent Republicans tried to destabilize and destroy our province and force us into a United Ireland, Dr. Paisley led the Unionist population in opposition to their objectives."

Robinson further added, "The DUP and indeed Northern Ireland will forever be indebted to Dr. Paisley for his contribution. He is truly a Unionist colossus and he can be justifiably proud that today Unionist politics and Northern Ireland's position within the Union are stronger than at any point during his extraordinary career."

  History will judge whether Ian Paisley will be remembered for 40 years of saying no or one year of saying probably.  

—David Ford, Alliance Party leader

Mark Durkan, the leader of the nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party noted, "While this is very significant political news, there is responsibility on all of us as politicians to make the most of the political processes here no matter who comes or goes. In particular, we have to make a success of the investment conference in May and not allow this story to distort or distract from this focus."

David Ford, the leader of the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland also noted, "History will judge whether Ian Paisley will be remembered for 40 years of saying no or one year of saying probably. Many will say his road to Damascus conversion came 35 years too late. The achievements of the executive since last May have been modest in the extreme."

Peter Hain, the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland gave his response, "He played an absolutely historic role in ending the deadlock and establishing permanent devolved government and deserves enormous credit for the courage and vision he showed."

Jim Allister, a former DUP member who resigned over the power-sharing agreement with Sinn Fein and formed his own party, the Traditional Unionist Voice, gave his word, "It has been quite clear for some time that Ian Paisley was going to be hung out to dry by the DUP pragmatists. He had served his purpose. He had delivered what they had devised, but couldn't sell themselves - government with unrepentant terrorists."


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