Belfast Telegraph

Paisley leaves MLA role with 'hope'

Ian Paisley has bowed out of Stormont with a rousing speech which proved his famed powers of oratory have barely dimmed.

The 84-year-old former First Minister was invited to address the chamber on his last appearance before he steps down as an MLA to focus on the House of Lords.

The founder and long-time leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, who has taken the peerage Lord Bannside, urged politicians of all hues to work together to ensure a better future for Northern Ireland's children.

"As we sit in this house today we look back and we have great sorrow and our thoughts and prayers are with the bereaved," he said.

"But we have also hope, hope that at long last we will get away from the things in the past that we now deplore and we will go forward with the help of almighty God to a place where we will be proud, all of us, that we are Ulster men and Ulster women and that we have done our best in the most difficult of circumstances to do what we can for the coming generation.

"What you do in the next meeting of this house is going to affect a lot of young people and we want our young people to have a chance in life and all I can say to you all tonight is God bless you, God bless Ulster, God save us from the things that disgrace the name of Christianity and God bring us into an experience where young people will be proud, no matter what their religion is or what their politics is, they will be proud to say 'I come from Ulster'."

The evangelical preacher spent much of his career saying no to power sharing with republicanism but it was his momentous decision to say yes to entering government with Sinn Fein in 2007 that may well define his legacy.

He forged a warm working relationship with Deputy First Minister and one-time IRA commander Martin McGuinness that developed into a personal friendship. Their bonhomie saw them dubbed the "chuckle brothers" in the year they spent leading the executive.

Mr Paisley has been content with a place on the backbenches since resigning as First Minister and DUP leader in 2008, when he was succeeded by his long-time deputy Peter Robinson.

He told MLAs it was 41 years since he first entered Stormont as an elected representative. "Now I feel I only look like 41," he joked. "But that is not so because the facts are against us, we're all moving away from youth to middle age and when we look at one another we've spread a bit in our middle age and of course weakening in our old age."

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