Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: What now for brand Paisley?

Whatever anyone thinks of Ian Paisley — and he has been both loved and loathed in fair measure during his political career — there is no denying that he was a colossal figure in Northern Ireland politics for 40 years.

For most of his career his name was synonymous with fierce, unbending opposition to even moderate nationalism and yet, in a remarkable volte face in his twilight years, he agreed to share power with Sinn Fein.

It was a development that few could have foreseen, but ultimately it showed that Paisley could be a pragmatic, as well as a protesting, politician. Having finally overwhelmed the Ulster Unionists and having established the DUP as the major party of unionism, he was able to negotiate a deal which won the backing of most people in Northern Ireland, if not some of his own most hard-line supporters.

During his career Paisley practised an unique blend of firebrand religion and incendiary politics and his outrageous attacks on Catholicism and the papacy made him a hate figure among many Catholics. Yet, even his fiercest critic could not deny that he was a formidable and fair MP when it came to the everyday interests of all his constituents.

Now the mantle of Paisleyism in North Antrim is likely to fall on the shoulders of his son. The son is a much different man from the father and it will be interesting to see how he will take forward the Paisley brand. For most of the past 40 years the result of any election in the constituency was a foregone conclusion. The faithful, both religious and political, rallied behind Paisley making it one of the most hardline unionist seats in the province. The question most observers are now pondering is whether those same hardline voters will remain Paisleyites or desert in significant numbers to other shades of unionism.

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