Belfast Telegraph

A polite queue formed at the condolence book

By Noel McAdam

Members of the public had to wait to sign the official Assembly book of condolence for Ian Paisley - and wait.

MLAs had allotted the same amount of time to write in the book as they had given themselves to speak about the former First Minister.

The speeches were due to last for 90 minutes, but stretched to almost 100.

Then MLAs gathered in the Great Hall – watched over by the portrait of the DUP leader – as they entered their names.

Thus it was 3pm before visitors were able to add their own names. Not that anyone was complaining. Instead MLAs stood politely, the party leaders up front, awaiting their turn.

Even the hammers on the scaffolding outside the front of Parliament Buildings fell silent.

Inside the Chamber, parts of the public gallery had been packed, although most of the people were from groups already due to visit Stormont yesterday.

Mr Paisley's close friend and ally, William McCrea MP, was also there, and watched his MLA son explain why he was called Ian.

"He always told me how proud he was that I carried on that name," the younger McCrea remembered.

Willie Frazer of the Protestant victims' group Families Acting for Innocent Relatives (FAIR), who often took part in protests over the years alongside Mr Paisley, was also present.

Assembly benches are not normally so packed when proceedings get under way around noon every Monday – but MLAs knew they were in line for an early getaway.

John McCallister ensured he wasn't seen perched beside recent NI21 partner Basil McCrea by getting Green Party leader Steven Agnew to sit in between them.

In the end independent MLA McCallister was the only voice not represented – although he did get to his feet to try to catch the Speaker's eye.

Many of the speakers, especially the long line of DUP members, referenced hymns, pieces of scripture and poems.

And Peter Robinson quoted directly from one of Mr Paisley's sermons entitled 'Five Minutes After Death'.

In it, he said: "If you hear that Ian Paisley is dead, don't believe it. I'll be more alive than ever... singing as I sang never before."

Mr Robinson quipped: "Those of us who stood beside him when he did sing will know how blessed a hope that is."

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph