From Ballymena to Guinea-Bissau

By Stephen Walker
Political reporter, BBC Northern Ireland

  • Published
Ian Paisley JnrImage source, Other
Image caption,
Ian Paisley is vice-chairman of the all-parliamentary group on Guinea-Bissau

Politicians will tell you they get a varied postbag.

Every day letters from constituents, invitations to events, reports and answers to parliamentary questions arrive on their desks.

Like the rest of Northern Ireland's 18 MPs the member for North Antrim, Ian Paisley, gets his fair share of surprises in the mail.

Last October, the DUP MP was opening his post in London as usual when he was intrigued to see a letter from the United Nations that had come from the small west African country of Guinea-Bissau.

The envelope contained an invite to become an unpaid mediator as part of the country's peace and reconciliation process.

The initiative is being backed by the European Union and the United Nations, and the DUP man said the offer was unexpected.

"It came out of the blue," he said.

"I am honoured to be able to offer some of my experiences from Northern Ireland to another country. I intend to apply the Northern Ireland experience to Guinea-Bissau."

The invitation was not a complete shock since the DUP MP had taken an interest in African matters.

He is vice-chairman of the all-parliamentary group on Guinea-Bissau.

In the past year he has also met officials from the west African state and hosted the speaker of the parliament Raimundo Pereira when he visited Westminster.


The DUP man' s job in this troubled part of the world should not be under-estimated.

Like Northern Ireland, a history of civil strife and unrest has dominated this corner of the globe.

Image caption,
Guinea-Bissau is in west Africa

There are major political and security concerns, and ethnic and religious rivalries.

The country has witnessed repeated unrest since independence from Portugal in 1974, and has also seen repeated coups and become a haven for drug traffickers.

In December, the head of the Navy tried to take over a military barracks which was interpreted as another coup attempt.

The country is now in a state of transition following the death of President Malam Bacai Sanha who was elected back in 2009.

Ian Paisley said his job as a mediator had taken on "added urgency" following Mr Sanha's death.

The MP will travel to the country this week to attend the funeral of Mr Sanha and he will also watch the inauguration of an interim president who will be Raimundo Pereira.

As an official mediator Ian Paisley will meet the political parties in Guinea-Bissau, members of the churches and representatives from the military and police.

The MP said he would draw on his political experience including his time on the Northern Ireland Policing Board to assist in plans for reconciliation.

The North Antrim MP will also focus on the country's drug problem.

He said: "Many of the drugs on the streets of Britain have arrived on our shores through Guinea- Bissau.

"Creating economic alternatives to drugs and reforming the security services is vital."

Elections will take place in Guinea- Bissau later this year and a conference involving key political and military groups which Ian Paisley will attend has been rescheduled for next month.