Belfast Telegraph

Ian Paisley, death of a political behemoth: Cameron, Blair and Robinson lead tributes

By John Mulgrew

Tributes have been pouring in for former Northern Ireland First Minister and DUP leader Ian Paisley who has died at the age of 88. His death was announced by his wife Eileen on Friday.

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"My beloved husband, Ian, entered his eternal rest this morning," said his wife Eileen.

"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."

Once a firebrand preacher, who led opposition to any accommodation with republicans for decades, Ian Paisley entered into power-sharing government with Sinn Fein.

Dr Paisley - who was also known as Lord Bannside after his peerage in 2010 - was Stormont's First Minister, alongside Deputy First Minister McGuinness.

Even though opposed to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 - which effectively ended the Troubles - Mr Paisley ended up sharing power with his bitter rival Martin McGuinness in 2007.

The pair were dubbed the 'Chuckle Brothers' such was the extent of their successful working relationship.

His former colleague Martin McGuinness paid tribute to his "friend".

"In the brief period that we worked together... I developed a close working relationship with him which developed into a friendship, which despite our many differences lasted beyond his term in office," 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."

Dr Paisley's wife, Baroness Paisley said: "According to Ian's wishes his funeral will be private and attended only by the immediate family, as will be his burial.

"As a family we appreciate that there will be an expectation by those who admired him to express their gratitude for his life and their sorrow at his passing.

"To that end we will in due course publish details of a public memorial service which, will be scheduled later in the year.

"There will be no further comment or statements made by me or the family at this time."

Elected to Westminster in 1970 as a unionist MP for North Antrim, just a year later he founded the DUP which he led until 2008.

Playing a key role in orchestrating the Ulster Workers' Council Strike which brought Northern Ireland to a standstill in 1973, he was vehemently opposed to the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement and accused the British prime minister Margaret Thatcher of a betrayal of unionists.

Tributes have been flooding in from the political spectrum across the globe.

Prime Minister David Cameron said while Ian Paisley was a "controversial figure for large parts of his career" his contribution to Northern Ireland's political stability in later life was "huge".

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

First Minister Peter Robinson described him as "a remarkable man whose long career in public life has left an indelible mark upon all of us who knew him".

"A long and glorious period of Ulster history has now closed and already the province seems a little less colourful," the DUP man said.

"Ian has taken his place in history alongside the greats of unionism making our heritage even more rich.  To have known him and stood alongside him for so many years has been one of the greatest privileges of my life."

The Orange Order's Grand Master Edward Stevenson paid tribute and described Ian Paisley as a "firm supporter and friend of Orangeism".

His former political opponent John Hume said Dr Paisley was "a larger than life character in Irish politics and a dominant voice within unionism".

"I knew Ian Paisley well throughout our many years in politics and we enjoyed a close working relationship in the European Parliament," said the former SDLP leader.

"During this time Mr Paisley was a larger than life character in Irish politics and a dominant voice within unionism.

"While he was not always constructive, and often politically challenging, he could, on a personal level, be very charming."

Former prime minister Tony Blair - who presided over the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 - said Dr 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 peace-maker.

"Over time I got to know him well. He could be an uncompromising even intransigent opponent. But he was also someone who loved Northern Ireland and its people. He led them but he also followed them. When they said to him peace was thinkable, he made it possible.

"I don't suppose 40 years ago he would ever have thought that politically his life then would end as it does now. But I know he and Eileen would be very proud of his huge contribution to a peaceful future for Northern Ireland."

"My deepest condolences to all the family."

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said he was "shocked and saddened" to hear of Dr Paisley's death.

"There will be plenty of time for political analysis but at this point I wish to extend my deepest sympathies to Ian's wife Eileen and to the Paisley family at this very sad time," he said.

Following the death of Lord Bannside, the Secretary of State sends condolences to his family and pays tribute to his contribution to the peace process.

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers said she was "deeply saddened to hear of the death of Lord Bannside".

"My sincere condolences go to Baroness Paisley, the Paisley family. Ian Paisley was a beloved husband and revered father. His passing will leave an irreplaceable gap in their lives."

Further reading

Ian Paisley: Journey from firebrand to peacemaker and bridge builder

Obituary: Ian Paisley, the colossus on Northern Ireland politics who changed the course of history

Paisley death 'end of an era': Hume

Ian Paisley: From 'the scarlet woman of Rome' to 'the devil's buttermilk' - big Ian's notable quotes

Ian Paisley a "beloved husband"

Tributes pour in for Ian Paisley

MPs unite in tributes to Paisley

Republic's leaders praise Paisley

Colossus of Ulster politics

Tributes pour in for Ian Paisley

DUP party colleagues also paid their own tributes to a stalwart of Northern Irish politics.

Jim Wells MLA said: "We will never see another Ian Paisley. He broke the mold and will be sadly missed. He fought the good fight and won the race."

David Simpson MP described Ian Paisley as "great friend of Ulster and a servant of Christ".

Former prime minister Gordon Brown said: "Few have had as massive an influence on the recent politics of the United Kingdom as Ian Paisley.

"His support for the peace process was vital in moving it forward. He will be remembered as a powerful preacher, a moral campaigner and a popular orator who combined humour and passion.

"My thoughts are with Baroness Paisley and his surviving family."

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said Dr Paisley was by any measure a major figure in the history of Ireland and Britain.

"I had the pleasure of meeting and talking to him in recent years, and I know that he treasured the peace and friendship that he had lived to see, and helped to build, between our traditions," Mr Kenny said.

"His devotion to his faith and to the unionist people of Northern Ireland was deep and unshakeable."

Irish president Michael D Higgins said Ian Paisley was "a man of deep convictions".

"Irrespective of one's political perspective, Dr Paisley was undoubtedly a man of immense influence on the contemporary history of this island," he said.

"I have heard with sadness of the passing of Dr Ian Paisley and on behalf of Sabina and myself, I would like to express to his wife Eileen and to his family our deepest sympathy."

Former Irish president Mary McAleese and her husband Martin also expressed their condolences.

"Dr Paisley will be remembered by many people in Northern Ireland as a controversial figure, a political giant and spiritual leader," they said.

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern described him as "a big man with a big heart".

"In my younger days I found him a very difficult character but we ended up very good friends. He was a valuable character in the peace process," he said.

Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt said his sympathies were with "Baroness Paisley and the family".

"There will be plenty of time to reflect on Ian Paisley's impact on the shaping of the modern Northern Ireland and its relations with our nearest neighbours, but today is a time to give the Paisley household space to mourn," he said.

Alliance MP for East Belfast, Naomi Long said: "Sad to hear of the death of Ian Paisley. May God's love and grace surround & support Eileen and the family at this painful time."

Her party colleague, Justice Minister David Ford Ian Paisley was a "dedicated political representative who served the people of North Antrim for over four decades".

"This was a huge period of time working on behalf of his constituents. His passing marks the end of the era, Northern Ireland politics will not be the same following his death," he said.

SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell said sent his sympathies to the family and described Dr Paisley as a "man of great contradictions.

"I could never and would never agree with his politics but he was a committed constituency representative and public servant. History will undoubtedly judge him for his role in the troubles and the pain that was caused by his rhetoric," he said.

"On behalf of the SDLP, I again want to pass on our condolences to his family and political colleagues."

Green Party leader Steven Agnew said: "My condolences to family & friends of Dr Ian Paisley. Now is a time of personal loss not political dissection."

Speaking at Westminster today, the SDLP's Mark Durkan had started the round of tributes by raising a point of order.

"On a point of order can I ask if it would be appropriate for the House to perhaps reflect on the sad news of the death of the Lord Bannside who served in this House for so many years with such character and colour as the Reverend Ian Paisley," he said.

Former Prime Minister John Major described his "great admiration and respect" for the former DUP leader.

"Ian Paisley was a man of public passion and huge personal charm, who cared deeply for the community he served," he said.

"From a position where he was suspicious of every movement towards peace, he came to embrace it, and served as the first First Minister of Northern Ireland. It was a remarkable journey by a remarkable man, for whom I had great admiration and respect."

Labour leader Ed Miliband said Ian Paisley was a towering figure.

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

"His willingness to work positively with Martin McGuinness was a key element in ensuring continued peace and stability in Northern Ireland."

Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond said: "Ian Paisley was a major figure in the politics of these islands who I first got to know at Westminster as a warm, personable fellow MP, despite the obvious differences in our political outlook.

Former Labour spin doctor, Alastair Campbell said that "for all sound and fury he was a remarkable figure and 'Chuckle Brothers' with McGuinness great moment".

Labour Shadow Secretary of State Ivan Lewis said "as we reflect on Dr Paisley’s remarkable life we are reminded of the enormous progress that has occurred in Northern Ireland since the darkest days of the Troubles".

A book of condolence for the late politician will be opened at Belfast City Hall on Monday morning.

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