Ian Paisley: Politicians and religious leaders react to death

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Media caption,

BBC Northern Ireland Political Reporter Stephen Walker looks back at the life of Ian Paisley

Political and religious leaders have been reacting to the death of former Democratic Unionist Party leader and first minister Ian Paisley.

Prime Minister David Cameron said Mr Paisley, 88, had been "one of the most forceful and instantly recognisable characters in British politics".

His successor, Peter Robinson, said he was influential and Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness said he had lost a friend.

His wife, Baroness Eileen Paisley, said the family was heartbroken.

He ended up leading a power-sharing executive at Stormont - although he had supported the strike to bring one down 30 years earlier.

In 2010, he was given the title Lord Bannside of North Antrim after taking his seat in the House of Lords.

Earlier that year he had stepped down as North Antrim MP - the constituency he had represented at Westminster for 40 years.

In her statement on Friday, Baroness Paisley said: "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."

Baroness Paisley said that his funeral would be private.

The prime minister said Mr Paisley was a controversial politician but his contribution in his later years to stability in Northern Ireland was "huge".

"In particular, his decision to take his party into government with Sinn Féin in 2007 required great courage and leadership, for which everyone in these islands should be grateful," Mr Cameron said.

"Ian Paisley will be remembered by many as the 'Big Man' of Northern Ireland politics. He will be greatly missed."

Media caption,

Peter Robinson: "More than a colossus in unionism"

Ed Miliband, Leader of the Opposition, said Mr Paisley was "a towering figure in Northern Ireland politics for decades".

"His decision to take the DUP into a power-sharing partnership with Sinn Féin was the ultimate act of political courage and reconciliation," he said.

First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson said that during the height of the Troubles, the "sure and certain ring" of Ian Paisley's voice had a "special resonance" with the people of Northern Ireland.

"I don't think that there's anyone who has had more influence in Northern Ireland over the years," Mr Robinson said.

Media caption,

Peter Taylor, who interviewed Ian Paisley many times, shares his memories.

"Even those who thought the least of his politics thought the most of him as a person."

He said those who knew Ian Paisley knew his priority was his faith - above all else in life.

"In terms of Ian Paisley's political contribution, I think there are many people who look at his early days in the context of the more stable and peaceful society that we have today.

"The Ian Paisley of those days was an Ian Paisley that was keeping together a unionist community that felt it was under fire, that it had no friends to help it constitutionally, that its representatives were being picked off, there was genocide along the border," he said.

However, former Alliance Party leader John Cushnahan said that while he sympathised with the family, he was astonished at the "rewriting" of Ian Paisley's political contribution.

"While I welcome the fact that he ultimately embraced power sharing, it was too little too late and should not be used to excuse the pain and suffering that he inflicted on the people of Northern Ireland for the majority of his political life," he said.

Ian Paisley

Career in numbers


years old


years in politics

  • 40 years as an MP

  • 37 years as Democratic Unionist Party leader

  • 25 years as an MEP

  • 13 years as a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly


Mr Cushnahan said that his life was "punctuated with nakedly sectarian acts and deeds".

He said the 1974 power sharing executive in Northern Ireland had been brought down by "a combination of increasing IRA violence and the fascist UWC strike led by Ian Paisley and loyalist paramilitaries".

"Tragically thousands more people were to lose their lives or suffer serious injury before Sinn Féin and the DUP embraced what already been on offer in 1974. The belated conversion of both should not result in an attempt to naively rewrite history."

Martin McGuinness, Sinn Féin, who was Ian Paisley's deputy first minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly, said he had learned of the death with deep regret and sadness.

"Over a number of decades we were political opponents and held very different views on many, many issues but the one thing we were absolutely united on was the principle that our people were better able to govern themselves than any British government," he said.

"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."

Media caption,

Martin McGuinness: "I've lost a friend"

Analysis: Nick Robinson, BBC political editor

Loved and loathed, admired and feared, the life of the man known simply as "Big Ian" is the story of Northern Ireland's transition from violence to peace.

Some will remember him for a single word - "Never!" - rarely spoken, usually bellowed.

He was, for years, the symbol of unionist defiance and, occasionally, menace.

Others will reflect, instead, on what was to become a routine but nonetheless extraordinary sight.

The sight of him sharing a smile and a laugh with the man who had been his bitter enemy - Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness.

Media caption,

Peter Hain: "Paisley was the big man of Northern Ireland politics"

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair said Mr Paisley was "a man of deep convictions".

"The convictions never changed. But his appreciation of the possibilities of peace, gradually and with much soul searching, did. He began as the militant. He ended as the peacemaker," he said.

President of Ireland Michael D Higgins said Mr Paisley was "a man of deep convictions".

"His early career was characterised by an uncompromising position of a constitutional kind. However, his embracing of the change necessary to achieve a discourse that might lead to peace was of immense significance, as was his commitment to building relationships in support of that peace," he said.

Former Irish prime minster Bertie Ahern described Ian Paisley as "a big man with a big heart".

Image source, AP
Image caption,
Ian Paisley pictured outside Stormont in 1969

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