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McGuinness praises 'friend' Paisley

Martin McGuinness has urged politicians to rise to the challenge of securing peace and a better future for Northern Ireland following Ian Paisley's death.

The Stormont Deputy First Minister joined Democratic Unionist First Minister Peter Robinson in paying tribute to a man praised for his commitment to attaining lasting stability.

In 2007 Dr Paisley ended decades of virulent opposition to compromise with republicanism by taking power as DUP first minister at the devolved assembly alongside Mr McGuinness, a former IRA commander and senior Sinn Fein member.

Political parties from all sides offered heartfelt thoughts of the churchman and politician's legacy at a special Stormont sitting while the family held a private funeral in Belfast.

Mr McGuinness said: "I do believe the peace process has lost a great friend and I have lost a friend.

"We all have to rise to the occasion, this is about peace making, it's about building a better future for our young people."

Mr Robinson said Dr Paisley was the undisputed leader of unionism.

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"Ulster will never see the like of him again. He was an exceptional human being.

"He had a loyal heart, a fidelity to freedom, a passion for democracy and a love for public service. In the storm he was oak and granite and in the sunshine he radiated passion and commitment.

"He no longer sits among us but we are entrusted with his legacy and we are stirred by his injunction to finish the course and secure lasting peace and stability for the land he loved so much."

Dr Paisley died last Friday at the age of 88.

His family held a private service at their home on Cyprus Avenue in Belfast this morning before burial in Ballygowan, Co Down.

A lone piper led the way a few metres from the hearse to the grave beside Ballygowan Free Presbyterian Church. Dr Paisley's successor as North Antrim MP, his son Ian Jnr, carried the coffin.

A public memorial service will be held later in the year, the family has said.

Books of condolence were opened today in the City Hall in Belfast and also at Stormont.

The former first minister and former unionist leader was a firebrand fundamentalist Protestant preacher and polarising figure whose vehement opposition to dealing with the IRA and extreme anti-Catholic rhetoric was legendary.

The bellicose symbol of unionist defiance was famous for bellowing ''never, never, never, never'' during a mass protest against Irish government involvement in Northern Ireland affairs in the 1980s.

He helped wreck earlier attempts at political accord, became the ultimate protest figure and promised to smash Sinn Fein.

But, in a potent symbol of the ground covered by political negotiations which largely ended violence, he entered government with republicans in 2007 as Stormont's first minister after republicans lent their support to the police.

Eventually his partnership with Mr McGuinness at the head of government led to them being dubbed the Chuckle Brothers.

Mr McGuinness said his professional relationship and friendship with Mr Paisley - the source of much irritation in some sections of unionism and republicanism - should provide food for thought with the Stormont Executive dogged by political stalemate.

"In rising above old enmities we pointed the way to a better and peaceful future."

Mr Robinson added: "Those of us who knew him best will remember the fun and joy it was to be in his company but today we close the page on a long and glorious era and already politics seems a little less colourful and exciting.

"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."

He said the DUP founder was a remarkable man whose long career in public life has left an indelible mark on all who knew him.

"The 'Big Man' as he was known, provided firm and decisive leadership when unionism lacked it most and needed it most."

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams signed the book of condolence at Belfast's City Hall.

He said: "Many families who suffered the worst excesses of sectarianism may take issue with this, but Ian Paisley is due recognition for reaching agreement with Irish republicans on a peaceful future for all of our people and for the way he fulfilled his role as first minister, alongside Martin McGuinness.

"Together they proved that politics can work and that unionists and republicans working together could make political progress and overcome significant political difficulties."

Alasdair McDonnell, nationalist SDLP leader, described Dr Paisley as a "committed politician and dedicated public servant".

Mike Nesbitt, Ulster Unionist leader, said Dr Paisley's work in his latter years to secure lasting peace was not complete.

"On this day when the Paisley family mourns let us keep the household foremost in our thoughts but let us also commit to finish our political journey, a journey that took Ian Paisley on a remarkable voyage for better and worse," he said.

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