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Ian Paisley: 1926 - 2014

The sight of the firebrand preacher bounding across the grass in Farmleigh to shake Bertie Ahern’s hand was a genuine ‘wow’ moment in Irish politics. But for decades, the DUP founder was known as ‘Dr No’.

Updated 11.05 pm

IAN PAISLEY, ONE of the staunchest opponents of the IRA’s campaign of violence during the North’s ‘Troubles’, and a man whose name was for decades synonymous with the word ‘no’ died today, his family confirmed.

He was 88.

Paisley, who served as First Minister in the Stormont executive between 2007 and 2008, founded the Democratic Unionist Party in 1971 and held on to his leadership role for almost four decades — eventually stepping down to allow current First Minister Peter Robinson take over.

He made his reputation as a firebrand preacher, becoming famous internationally for his fierce verbal attacks on the republican movement and the Catholic Church.

For observers of Anglo-Irish relations, the sight of the man who once threw snowballs at Sean Lemass bounding across the grounds of Farmleigh towards Bertie Ahern in 2007 exclaiming “I better shake the hands of this man!” was a genuine ‘wow’ moment in Irish politics.

Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

The man who once rejected the Anglo-Irish Agreement, famously telling crowds of baying supporters that he would “never, never, never” allow Dublin have a say in the North’s affairs, eventually agreed to enter a power sharing administration with Sinn Féin in the summer of 2007.

The moment was the culmination of a gradual shift in his hardline stance, and followed the historic St Andrews Agreement between the Northern parties and the Irish and British governments.

Just a few years earlier, he had vowed he would never change his attitude towards (to use his phrase) “Sinn Féin-IRA” telling the BBC:

I’ll go to the grave with the convictions I have.

Source: ninthwave/YouTube

The ‘Chuckle Brothers’ 

Once in power, Paisley’s partnership with former IRA commander Martin McGuinness  – which eventually grew into an unlikely friendship — would have seemed unthinkable just a few years earlier.

The pair were even dubbed the “Chuckle Brothers” for their joviality.

“If anybody had told me a few years ago that I would be doing this,” he had said as he was sworn in as first minister in May 2007, McGuinness at his side, “I would have been unbelieving.”

Source: PA Wire/Press Association Images

A life…

Born in 1926, Paisley built a successful career on his staunch opposition to sharing power.

His doctorate was an honorary one, bestowed by a US university — but it formed part of his “Dr. No” image, along with his booming voice, fire-and-brimstone oratory and almost instinctive stance of outright opposition.

In 1964, he demanded that the Irish flag be removed from a street in British-ruled Belfast. Riots broke out when it was removed.

He had been bitterly opposed to the 1973 Sunningdale Agreement along with the Thatcher-Fitzgerald Anglo-Irish deal 12 years later — and when the 1998 Good Friday peace deal was thrashed out to create Northern Ireland’s assembly, many wrote Paisley off.

But the man who spent a lifetime saying ‘no’ finally said ‘yes’ – bolstered by increasing electoral success which made his party the biggest in the assembly.

That agreement, brokered in 2006 at St Andrews, led to those remarkable photographs of Paisley, McGuinness, Ahern and a beaming Tony Blair drinking tea as power-sharing resumed.

Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

Many in the DUP found it difficult to understand Paisley’s apparent ease working with Sinn Fein, and it is thought that the issue contributed to his stepping down as both party leader and first minister in 2008.

But he continued to represent North Antrim at the House of Commons in London — a role he had held for 40 years by the time he stood down in 2010 and joined the House of Lords as Lord Bannside.

Minister

Paisley’s politics and his religion were inextricably intertwined. His booming oratory style was honed in the pulpit, and he continued to pen weekly sermons as First Minister.

An evangelical Christian who founded the Free Presbyterian Church in 1951, he was notoriously once thrown out of the European Parliament for denouncing pope John Paul II as the antichrist.

He launched a “Save Ulster from Sodomy” campaign in 1977 against the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Northern Ireland, which eventually happened in 1982.

Source: nh6central/YouTube

He gave his final sermon in January 2012, telling a crowd of 3,000 worshippers:

I am exceedingly happy that I’ve had the privilege of being the preacher here for 65 years, and that’s a long time.

He had been planning to write an autobiography after stepping down from the frontline of church and political life.

He had suffered health problems for several years and had a pacemaker in 2011.

Despite denials from his party that he was ill, Paisley admitted in 2004 that he had “walked in death’s shadow”.

He is survived by his wife Eileen and five children.

First published 1.45 pm 

Includes text from AFP.

Read: Former DUP leader Ian Paisley has died, aged 88 

 

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