The Irish government lost patience with Ian Paisley over delays in agreeing a power-sharing deal with Sinn Fein, according to leaked US embassy cables.
A fascinating insight into how the former DUP leader was privately viewed by key players in the peace process is mapped out, revealing anger, frustration and also respect for the one-time firebrand politician.
In one dispatch, a senior Irish official expressed frustration that Mr Paisley was flipping between wanting to become First Minister and, on other occasions, “railing against nationalists”.
Another details how he was privately praised by a leading Sinn Fein figure.
Mr Paisley resigned as First Minister and leader of the DUP — a party he headed for almost 40 years — in May 2008, and stood down from the Assembly at last month’s elections.
The latter years of his political career feature prominently in the cables, some of which detail the frustration at his reluctance to agree a deal with Sinn Fein.
One focuses on a meeting in early 2006, when pressure was growing on the DUP to share power following the previous year’s IRA statement which declared its armed campaign was over.
The meeting was attended by then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, Irish government ministers, officials and US Special Envoy Mitchell Reiss.
Irish ambassador to the US Michael Collins briefed diplomats on an earlier discussion between the British and Irish prime ministers, reporting that the two had agreed “to churn the process” in order to keep the DUP “on edge”.
Turning to Mr Paisley, he expressed frustration at being unable to second guess his next step. “Discussion about DUP intentions followed, with Collins repeating the view that it is hard to read Ian Paisley,” the cable states.
“[O]ne moment he seems to want to see the institutions up so that he can be First Minister, and the next moment he seems to want to end his days the way he has lived them: railing against nationalists and refusing to share power with Sinn Fein.”
In another cable which is dated two years earlier — November 15, 2004 — Mr Collins describes how Mr Paisley’s influence is essential in securing a deal between the DUP and Sinn Fein. The parties had been set a November 26 deadline to consider a blueprint put forward by the London and Dublin governments.
While Sinn Fein had indicated the IRA would be stood down, the sticking point was DUP |demands for photographic |evidence of weapons decommissioning.
According to the cable, Mr Collins said it was “surreal” that a deal has not yet been reached given the significance of Sinn Fein's offer.
“The problem, he [Collins] said, is DUP reluctance. The key is to bring the Rev Ian Paisley on board.”
It adds: “Both governments believe Paisley holds the key and that if he agrees, he can bring the rest of his party along.”
The cache of documents — released by WikiLeaks — also reveal how Mr Paisley had earned the private respect of senior Sinn Fein figures.
One cable, written in the wake of his 2008 resignation, details a conversation between a US diplomat and Rita O’Hare.
Ms O’Hare, Sinn Fein’s US representative, said she “respected Paisley”, adding that he was “a man of conviction and of his word”.
She added that Peter Robinson would be a satisfactory replacement.
“She indicated that finance minister Peter Robinson, if chosen as the next First Minister by the DUP, would be a DUP leader with whom Sinn Fein could easily work,” the cable said.
Mr Robinson was eventually chosen as Mr Paisley’s successor, becoming First Minister in June 2008.