Belfast Telegraph

Ian Paisley did deal with Sinn Fein 'to see Northern Ireland at peace before he met God'

By Liam Clarke

Reverend Ian Paisley decided to do a deal with Sinn Fein because he wanted to see Northern Ireland at peace before he died and met God, a new book has revealed.

The book, called The British and Peace in Northern Ireland, features contributions and insider recollections from prominent players in the peace process.

In his contribution, Sir Jonathan Phillips - now warden of Keble College at Oxford University but who was political director of the Northern Ireland Office in 2004 - says Paisley made the disclosure to then Prime Minister, Tony Blair.

Sir Jonathan recalls the Leeds Castle conference in 2004 - high-level political talks aimed at reviving a stalled Stormont - when there were fears for Paisley, then the DUP leader, after he was forced to travel by ferry and car through Scotland instead of flying.

"When asked by Tony Blair whether he was serious about trying to do a deal with Sinn Fein [Paisley said] that, yes, he was, because he wanted to see Northern Ireland at peace before he met his Maker," said Sir Jonathan, being interviewed by the book's editor, Dr Graham Spencer of the University of Portsmouth.

"That was very clearly, in my view, a reference to a personal religious positioning on the part of someone who, at the time, thought himself to be seriously ill and perhaps closer to the end of his life than turned out to be the case."

In fact, Rev Paisley was suffering from a leaking heart valve and, on the way home, he called with a specialist in Glasgow who adjusted his medication, bringing about a swift recovery. The DUP leader later told friends he took this as a sign that making peace was a job that God approved and was giving him time to complete.

Other senior British officials who either wrote a chapter or were interviewed for the book include Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair's Special Adviser and Sir John Chilcott, NIO permanent Secretary, 1990 until late 1997.

The British and Peace in Northern Ireland, edited by Graham Spencer, is published by Cambridge University Press, £19.99 paperback, £55 hardback

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