Belfast Telegraph

Peter Robinson: To have stood by Ian Paisley's side was my biggest privilege

By Adrian Rutherford

The first minister has hailed Ian Paisley as the founding father of a new Northern Ireland.

Peter Robinson said his death marked the end of a glorious period in Ulster history.

"As a leader of men, a friend of the people, a servant of the state and a voice for the truth, Ian Paisley excelled and shone," the DUP leader said.

"Ulster will never see the like of him again: a giant of a human being, a true Ulsterman with an immeasurable love for the province and its people.

"It can truly be said of Ian that he was the founding father of the new Northern Ireland."

Mr Robinson said he owed his political career to him, describing how he was drawn to the DUP in his early years by the strength of Mr Paisley's message.

For years he served as Mr Paisley's right-hand man, becoming deputy leader of the DUP in 1980, before succeeding him as party leader and first minister in 2008.

Mr Robinson said: "At a time such as this, words seem inadequate. Ian was a remarkable man whose long career in public life has left an indelible mark upon all of us who knew him.

"As a young person in the late 1960s, I was drawn towards politics by the strength of Ian's message and by his charisma. He provided firm and decisive leadership when unionism lacked it most and when it needed it most.

"His enthusiasm and sheer joy of life was infectious and he could energise an audience like no other person I have met before or since."

Mr Robinson also told how Mr Paisley, who served as MP for North Antrim for 30 years, had a great affection for the public.

"Ian loved the Ulster people and they repaid the compliment by electing him at the head of the poll in five consecutive European elections," he said

"The Big Man had a sincere interest in people problems, whether big or small. There are literally tens of thousands of people who have been touched by individual acts of kindness carried out away from the glare and gaze of the media."

Mr Robinson also extended his sympathies to the Paisley family, saying: "For most of his life, Ian was blessed to have Eileen by his side.

"Whether he was battling on the front line or marching on the sunny uplands, she has given him decades of love and support. At this sad time, the prayers of everyone in the DUP and far beyond the confines of our party are with Baroness Paisley, her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren."

Mr Robinson said Mr Paisley's passing marked the end of an era in Northern Ireland politics.

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

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