Belfast Telegraph

Ian Paisley: So often he divided them, but now they were united

Politicians of all persuasions pay warm tributes

By Noel McAdam

In death, Ian Paisley reached new heights of achievement - uniting the Assembly parties.

In life he was more used to dividing them, especially unionists and sometimes even his own party, particularly in more recent years.

Yesterday they came to extol the former First Minister and confess that, without him, the Assembly they all owe their jobs to might not even exist.

Republicans, nationalists and the Alliance Party all acknowledged the crucial role Mr Paisley played in the restoration of devolution – and pledged to try to honour his legacy.

All scheduled business was suspended as the Assembly adjourned in tribute to the former DUP leader, who died aged 88 last Friday following a long illness. As the 'Big Man' was being buried in private solemnity less than 12 miles away in Ballygowan, more than 20 speakers – more than half of them from the DUP – rose in the Assembly to pay tribute.

Only one major figure was missing from the Chamber – the Assembly Speaker, William Hay, who had been hospitalised with a suspected heart attack over the weekend.

Instead Mr Hay's place was taken by the MLA most likely to replace him – the man set to become the first republican Speaker of Stormont, Mitchel McLaughlin.

"There is no doubt that the former First Minister was instrumental in us all being in the Chamber today," he said.

Then Peter Robinson spoke of the 'joy and fun' of being in Mr Paisley's company for many years – though their relationship in recent times broke down.

"Ian has taken his place in the chronicles of Ulster history, alongside the greats of unionism, making our heritage even richer.

"As a leader of men, a friend of the people, a servant of the state and the undisputed leader of unionism, Ian Paisley outclassed all around him. Ulster will never see the like of him again," the First Minister said.

Perhaps the single most poignant tribute came from Martin McGuinness, who as Deputy First Minister with Mr Paisley earned the sobriquet 'the Chuckle Brothers'.

He admitted one of the reasons given for Mr Paisley leaving office was "because he was too friendly with me".

He added: "There is food for thought in all of that... in that he had the ability, coming from where he came from, to bridge the differences with me, and... in rising above old enmities, we pointed the way to a better and peaceful future. I believe that the peace process has lost a great friend, and I have lost a friend."

Mr McGuinness said that some republicans had taken exception to his remarks. "I say this to them: if FW de Klerk had died before Nelson Mandela, what would Nelson Mandela have said about FW de Klerk?

"We all have to rise to the occasion, folks. This is about peacemaking and building a better future for our young people."

Jim Allister, a former close associate of Mr Paisley, said he had been a "successful politician" but "his legacy is terrorists in government and a system that is not fit for purpose.

He added: "None of that would have been possible without Ian Paisley. By any standard, his was a remarkable political journey – from being the scourge of republicanism to the proclaimed friend of an unrepentant IRA commander."

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt and SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell said their main thoughts were with the extended Paisley family, on the day of his funeral, who had been left with a "big gap" – while there would be time to debate his legacy in the future.

Alliance leader David Ford said historians would have to judge whether Mr Paisley is remembered for 40 years of saying 'no' or for two years of saying 'yes' and Green Party leader Stephen Agnew said the deceased was too significant and complex a figure for a standard narrative to be agreed.

UKIP's David McNarry said: "The 'never' moved towards a 'maybe' and turned into a 'yes'. It was a yes to a work in progress... ensuring Northern Ireland's continued Britishness. Thanks, Doc."

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