Ian Paisley divided us, but he helped shape us too
The death of Ian Paisley marks the end of a remarkable era. People either detested him or admired him, but few could ignore him.
His remarkable rhetoric and his consummate political skills, together with his ruthlessness and his ability to seize opportunities, made him, for good or ill, a truly outstanding figure.
He had humble beginnings, but he developed the charisma to impress people from many different backgrounds. He also had the bruising confidence to take on all-comers – they included British and Irish premiers, several popes, and nearly all secretaries of state in Northern Ireland, many of whom felt the wrath of his tongue.
Nevertheless, his great humour and his remarkable showmanship made an impression on many people. At times, there was a danger they would forget that Ian Paisley was one of the most divisive figures in Northern Ireland politics. Indeed, some would argue that he was one of the figures most responsible for pushing us towards the abyss, though there were a number of other figures on all sides who shared that responsibility.
Despite the many tributes being paid to him, it must be said that Ian Paisley was too often truculent.
He was flawed, he made enemies, and he inflamed situations unnecessarily.
Despite all that – and it is a considerable caveat – Ian Paisley deserves great credit for dragging this province through the narrow gate towards peace, and for laying the foundation for a more stable society.
No individual other than him could have delivered on the unionist side, and it is a pity that his warm relationship with Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness was not maintained after Peter Robinson succeeded him.
However, the enduring mystery of Ian Paisley is his change of heart which made peace possible. He never really explained it, even in his unflattering television interviews earlier this year.
The inescapable fact remains, however, that Ian Richard Kyle Paisley took us down the road towards peace and finally pointed us in the right direction. Above all else, that is what he should be remembered for today.