Belfast Telegraph

Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness: The most unexpected partnership in politics

Ian Paisley struck up a good working relationship with Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness
Ian Paisley struck up a good working relationship with Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness
Martin McGuinness signs the Book of Condolence at Derry’s Guildhall

By Brian Rowan

If ever there was a political odd couple, then they were it. The Paisley and McGuinness power-sharing partnership proved that in the momentum of peace-building, almost anything was possible.

Not that it was easy to make the DUP-Sinn Fein deal that eventually came in the Spring of 2007. The first attempt, three years earlier, ended in failure and bitter recrimination.

Paisley wasn't yet ready and scuppered hopes of agreement with demands for photographic proof of decommissioning and his assertion that republicans should wear sackcloth and ashes. Months after the negotiations failed, he told me: "You're actually putting your future into the hands of the IRA. Well, it's like asking me to put my soul into the hands of the devil."

However, at that time, there was a but. If Paisley could be satisfied that the circumstances were right, then, he said: "I would have the courage to do it."

Those circumstances and courage fused in the events of the spring of 2007 – in that smiling, remarkable political partnership that came to be dubbed 'The Chuckle Brothers'.

None of us should forget the Paisley of the Third Force or Ulster Resistance – the preacher and politician who vowed to 'smash Sinn Fein', the man of Never and No.

Nor should we forget the McGuinness of the IRA leadership and 'active service'.

It was a long and bloody road to the politics of power-sharing.

But nor should we dismiss or downplay what eventually happened – captured in words written by McGuinness at the weekend: "The peace process and I have lost a friend."

McGuinness also said something in a radio interview on Friday. He made reference to Paisley's age when they entered government – saying if only the then DUP leader had been 25/30 years younger.

It was a clear reference to the turbulence and turmoil in today's political arena.

The relationship at the top of government needed Paisley and has missed him.

So much so, that at the weekend the Sinn Fein Chairman Declan Kearney described the current political situation as both "untenable and unsustainable".

For good or bad, Paisley was a big leader – who took a big step when he walked into government with McGuinness and Sinn Fein in May 2007.

Belfast Telegraph


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