WikiLeaks: Ian Paisley asked for Irish government help on visit to Brussels
Ian Paisley asked the southern government to co-ordinate a visit to Brussels in a highly significant and symbolic move.
According to a leaked diplomatic cable, the former DUP leader requested assistance from Irish embassy officials in the city when he travelled for a high-level EU meeting.
It came two decades after Mr Paisley gained international notoriety when he heckled the Pope as he addressed the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
Details of his surprising gesture are detailed in a confidential cable sent by the US Ambassador to Ireland, Thomas Foley, in January 2008.
It was written in the wake of a successful visit to the Belgian capital by Mr Paisley and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.
The cable referred to comments from international affairs adviser Martin Fraser, who noted the improvement in relations between Northern Ireland politicians and the Dublin government.
It details how DUP MP Nigel Dodds — described as a “staunch unionist” — had been photographed with Michael Collins, the Irish Ambassador to the US, during a visit to Washington.
The cable, obtained by WikiLeaks, states: “On a positive note, Fraser said there have been many useful contacts between Northern Ireland politicians and the Irish government.
“Fraser mentioned that when NIA (Northern Ireland Assembly) members go overseas, they seek out assistance from the Irish Embassy rather than their own NIA liaison offices.
“Pat Hennessy noted that NIA First Minister Ian Paisley asked the Irish Embassy in Brussels to co-ordinate his recent visit there.”
Mr Paisley’s decision was particularly surprising, having built his career on attacking the Republic and nationalism.
In 1965 he infamously threw snowballs at Sean Lemass when the then Taoiseach visited Stormont, and he also branded former Ulster Unionist leader Jim Molyneaux “Judas” over his budding relationship with Dublin.
However, in recent years Mr Paisley’s approach relented.
He spoke of “friendly relations” after visiting Irish premier Bertie Ahern at Leinster House in 2004, and two years later met Catholic Primate Sean Brady.
The good-humoured atmosphere during the Brussels visit in 2008 — where Mr Paisley was greeted with smiles and jokes by diplomats — contrasted with 20 years earlier.
On that occasion he was punched and booed by fellow MEPs before being evicted from the European Parliament for protesting as Pope John Paul II made his speech.