The life of Ian Paisley

PACEMAKER BELFAST. Ian Paisley before Local Council Elections where he announced his Smash Sinn Fein Campaign. 18/04/85.
685/85/bwc In his eighty-eight years, Ian Richard Kyle Paisley sharply divided opinion – within unionism and Protestantism and between the two communities – yet his eventual acceptance of power-sharing laid the foundation for stability at Stormont.

Devolution returned in the most surprising form but the genuine rapport between Paisley and Martin McGuinness added a new level of confidence. It was a far cry from his early days when the emerging leader fiercely criticised moderate unionists for reaching out to the Catholic community and helped to bring down the first power-sharing Executive.

Ian Paisley’s first passion was religion, first preaching in his teens and founding his own denomination at the age of 24. Separation from the establishment and a determination to lead characterised his adult life. He was a commanding presence whether in a gospel hall or on the floor of the House of Commons.

Overtaking the Ulster Unionists in 2003 took Paisley into new territory and presented the difficult task of moving his followers towards sharing power with Sinn Féin. With the hurdles of IRA decommissioning and republican support for policing overcome, the DUP finally agreed the historic deal. Paisley’s charisma helped to keep most DUP representatives on board but his term of office was shortened by internal church and party disputes.

In his latter years, the relationship between him and the DUP and Free Presbyterian Church was strained although his family was as ever close and loyal. Curiously, the Doc hinted at penning a book on his political life and times – it would have been a fascinating read. His impact, negative and positive, was made over one of Northern Ireland’s longest careers and our recent history cannot be written without reference to this unique preacher and politician.

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