Northern Irish politician Reverend Ian Paisley dies aged 88

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Ian Paisley in 2009.
Image: Scottish Government.

Reverend Ian Paisley — Lord Bannside — the former First Minister of Northern Ireland, hardline unionist politician, and Protestant preacher, died yesterday aged 88.

Paisley's wife Eileen released a statement saying: "My beloved husband, Ian, entered his eternal rest this morning. Although ours is the grand hope of reunion, naturally as a family we are heartbroken. We loved him and he adored us, and our earthly lives are forever changed."

Paisley helped form the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster in the early 1950s, later going into politics under the banner of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). Paisley's fiery preaching was uncompromising and fundamentalist: he was once expelled from the European Parliament for calling Pope John Paul II the "anti-christ". When Northern Ireland was debating the decriminalisation of homosexuality, Paisley led a campaign opposing the change titled "Save Ulster from Sodomy". Politically, Paisley became known as "Dr No" for his attitude towards compromise with republicans.

This firebrand rhetoric calmed with the successful negotiation of a peace process and with Paisley entering into shared governance with Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness. McGuinness paid tribute to Paisley via Twitter: "Very sad to learn that Ian Paisley has died. My deepest sympathy to his wife Eileen & family. Once political opponents – I have lost a friend." McGuinness also said of Paisley: "I want to pay tribute to and comment on the work he did in the latter days of his political life in building agreement and leading unionism into a new accommodation with republicans and nationalists."

UK Prime Minister David Cameron described Paisley as "one of the most forceful and instantly recognisable characters in British politics for nearly half a century" and noted that Paisley's willingness to enter into shared governance with republicans "required great courage and leadership, for which everyone in these islands should be grateful". The current First Minister Peter Robinson said Paisley "was the founding father of the new Northern Ireland".

Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair said Paisley "began as the militant" but "ended as the peacemaker". The former Irish taoiseach Bertie Ahern said of Paisley: "In my younger days I found him a very difficult character but we ended up very good friends. He was a valuable character in the peace process."