Paisley quits church role amid protests

DUP leader Ian Paisley will step down in January as Free Presbyterian Moderator to avoid a split in the church with those who disagreed with his political position.

The decision came after a five hour meeting in Belfast on Friday night involving church elders and ministers.

On the agenda were concerns over Ian Paisley’s dual role as first minister and moderator of the church that he founded.

The meeting had been picketed by protesters who are unhappy about the DUP leader’s decision to share power with Sinn Féin.

There had been speculation that Mr Paisley is being forced aside by church hardliners angered at his willingness to share power with republicans.

Mr Paisley has been elected moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church every year except one since he founded the church over half a century ago.

The disquiet had been building for several years, going back to the Comprehensive Agreement of 2004 when but for Paisley’s demand for “sackcloth and ashes” the deal with republicans would have happened then.

A fundamentalist website, Concerned Free Presbyterians, suggesting that Mr Paisley’s problems may not be over.

It said: “A start has been made and it is our hope that Presbytery will now proceed to deal with the remaining issues; clarifying precisely where the denomination stands with respect to murderers in government, etc; and disassociating the church from the present Stormont administration completely.”

However, senior church leaders said they believe the bulk of their recent problems are now behind them.

Meanwhile, Paisley has met with Irish President Mary McAleese for the first time since he became First Minister for the Six Counties.

The president warmly greeted Mr Paisley during a visit to the Somme Heritage Centre outside Newtownards, County Down.

The pair had been invited to launch the museum’s exhibition on the 16th Irish Division of the British Army which played a key role during the First World War.

Men joined from the National Volunteers - the name given to Irish Volunteers who sided with Irish Parliamentary Party leader John Redmond following his call to support the British and allied war effort.

President McAleese last night paid tribute to members of the division who died during the war, in which she said she and Mr Paisley shared a “common interest”.

* A leading Scottish novelist is to boycott one of the country’s major literary events as a protest against the presence of Mr Paisley.

The award-winning Morvern Callar author Alan Warner declined an invitation to attend this month’s Wigtown Book Festival after learning that Paisley was to be the guest of honour.

Warner, who now lives in Spain, is believed to have told festival organisers that he regards the DUP leader as a “sectarian” and that he would not attend the event.

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