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Eileen Paisley: Peter Robinson 'pathetic' for not contacting me after Ian's death

Rev Ian Paisley's widow Eileen has a few strong words for Peter Robinson, and some surprising ones for Martin McGuinness

By Suzanne Breen

Published 09/10/2015

The late Ian Paisley’s archive opened at the Bannside Library in the Upper Newtownards Road in east Belfast. Dr Paisley’s widow Eileen in the library
The late Ian Paisley’s archive opened at the Bannside Library in the Upper Newtownards Road in east Belfast. Dr Paisley’s widow Eileen in the library
Ian Paisley’s personal bible with handwritten notes which are in the library
A family picture of Ian Paisley and his dog

The widow of former DUP leader, the Rev Ian Paisley, has branded Peter Robinson "pathetic", saying he had not contacted her once following her husband's death.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Belfast Telegraph, Eileen Paisley also denounced former DUP Health Minister Edwin Poots' comments that the party's politicians held their noses before doing business with Sinn Fein as "downright offensive".

Eileen claimed that the First Minister had not been in touch with her since her husband died over a year ago: "They were colleagues together for almost four decades. But after Ian's death, there was no phone call, no card or no letter from Peter Robinson. Nothing.

"I found it very hurtful. But if that's the way Peter wants it to be, it's no loss to me. I think it pathetic when a person can't rise above things and even make a gesture in such a situation. I invited Peter to my husband's memorial service last year out of politeness.

"Peter sent Ian [junior] a text after Ian died and that was it. There was no other acknowledgement to our family."

Eileen said that, by contrast, Martin McGuinness had stayed in regular contact with the Paisleys: "He phoned on the first anniversary of Ian's death last month to say he was thinking of me and the entire family. I saw a humanity and a compassion in him that others have not shown."

Eileen said that when Peter Robinson had a heart attack in May, she had prayed for him: "I didn't hesitate to pray for Peter but I didn't send him a get-well card because I thought he wouldn't want that."

Baroness Paisley denounced Edwin Poots' remarks that DUP politicians "hold our noses" when doing business with Sinn Fein: "That's a terrible thing for a former health minister to say. That wasn't the way the DUP did things when Ian led the party into government with Sinn Fein.

"He didn't operate like that, it wasn't in the spirit of what he wanted for the people of Northern Ireland. Ian didn't hold his nose when he was talking to Martin McGuinness. He treated him like a human being.

"At Stormont when Ian was First Minister, everybody smiled and they had reason to smile. They were happy. The way things have worked out is the exact opposite of what Ian wanted."

When asked if Peter Robinson should resign as DUP leader and who should replace him, Eileen said: "That's not a matter for me. It's up to the party but they clearly have to do something. The present situation can't continue, it needs sorting out.

"I can't see any reason for this in-out, hokey cokey government. It's not good for the DUP and it's not good for the people."

Eileen said that the Nama claims were "like a sore festering in Northern Ireland politics - the allegations I've heard sound very unsavoury".

Speaking in the newly opened Bannside library in east Belfast which houses Rev Paisley's 55,000-strong book collection, Eileen disclosed details for the first time of her husband's death at home.

"On the night before he died, I leaned over Ian's bed to kiss him good night as I always did," she said. "He was very weak, he could barely lift his arm but he somehow managed to get it up and around my neck.

"'I love you, Eileen', he whispered. And I said, 'I love you Ian and I'll always love you.' Those were the last words he spoke. He died the next morning at 10.30am. Rhonda, Cherith, Kyle and I were with him.

"Ian and Sharon were delayed on the road by heavy fog. But they stopped their cars and rang when it was near the end and we held the phone to Ian's ear and they spoke to him, saying their farewells."

Eileen said her husband's death had left her more broken-hearted than words could ever convey: "I miss everything about Ian - his company, his conversation, his laughter, his presence.

"I miss him first thing in the morning, last thing at night and in all the hours in between. I met Ian when I was 18 and he was 23. He was the most vibrant and passionate man I'd ever encountered.

"I was Ian's wife, his lover and his friend. We discussed everything. He talked to me all the time. He'd be heading over to London and he'd only be out the door of the house 10 minutes, and he'd ring me.

"He'd ring me before the plane left. He'd ring me as soon as it landed. And he'd ring me in the car on the way to Parliament. I remember he once scared the life out of me when he rang me at 3am from Honolulu. I thought something awful had happened but he'd just wanted a wee chat. How we used to laugh about that!"

Eileen said that, despite the huge loss she still feels at Ian's death, she doesn't shed any tears: "I don't cry because, if I started crying, I'd never stop and that would be distressing for my children.

"I learned to keep my emotions in check a long time ago. When Ian was in prison, or when times were tough and I was worried about his safety, I had to be strong for the rest of the family.

"Running about weeping and being down wouldn't have changed anything or helped then and that's still the case. As a family, we talk a lot about Ian and the things he did and that helps us all cope. When Ian was travelling and had to be away from home, he used to say to me, 'Don't worry. We'll have all of heaven together, Eileen', and I find great comfort in that thought now."

Eileen said she regularly visits Ian's grave to lay flowers: "I left red roses on the first anniversary of his death last month. Ian chose where he would be buried in Ballygowan. It's a lovely spot and going there brings me great peace. There's a beautiful view from the hill."

Eileen said that having "so many beautiful memories" helps her get through losing her husband: "Ours was such a happy marriage. Ian never once raised his voice to me and, if I ever scolded him, he'd laugh and say to the children, 'I love it when she's angry!'

"He could be a bit of an old flirt asking women voters to give him 'the kiss of life' when he was canvassing at election time. But he was no philanderer and I knew he'd never stray.

"Even after years of being together, he'd come bounding in the door with a dress he'd seen in a shop window that he'd bought because he'd thought it would look nice on me and he'd want me to try it on immediately. That spark was always alive in our marriage. We'd bounce off each other."

Eileen said as a couple they remained "genuinely in love" until the very end: "We'd sit at night watching television, holding hands. There's a picture of Ian in the study at home and when I look at it, he always seem to be smiling with a twinkle in his eye - and that helps me feel not quite so lost without him."

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