Ian Paisley left Stormont Castle as First Minister for the last time yesterday, blowing the building a kiss.
Addressing the Assembly for the last time as joint leader of the Executive, the former DUP leader said: “This is not a day for words. It is a day for the emotions of the heart, the emotions of the mind and the emotions of the soul.”
The mood in the assembly chamber was unusually quiet, and Mr Paisley’s past was described by observers as being “like the white elephant in the room” which members paying tribute to him verbally tiptoed around.
The 82-year-old has talked about plans to pen a book and spend more time with his family.
But earlier this week, Mr Paisley courted one final controversy when he suggested that Sinn Féin leaders were providing information to the British Crown forces against the Provisional IRA.
In his departing speech as party leader, Mr Paisley said the Provisional IRA should stand down its Army Council to bring “final peace” to the North of Ireland.
Devolution of policing and justice powers to the North would happen once this final act was complete, he said, claiming that republicanism had been defeated.
“Today those who killed gallant members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) now publicly support the police by a signed pledge, they co-operate with them and supply the police with valuable information which I hope will see the ending of the IRA army council,” he said.
“There has been an amazing turnaround, and please God we will see it come to full fruition.
“We look forward to the time when police powers can be placed in the hands of the people, but that cannot be until these pressing matters are satisfactorily resolved.”
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness made no reference to Mr Paisley’s claims when he engaged in his last joint act with Mr Paisley on Wednesday.
Unveiling a plaque at the opening of a new ferry terminal in Belfast’s docklands, Mr McGuinness underlined his remarkable affection and admiration for ‘Big Ian’ as he entered his final 24 hours as First Minister.
Mr McGuinness unabashedly compared their relationship, which has been criticised by republican and unionist hardliners alike, with other famous partnerships down the centuries.
“I’m conscious that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin went to the moon and were joined forever afterwards in history,” he said.
“I’m also conscious that Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay went to the top of Everest. I think Ian Paisley and I have climbed our own Everest and gone to our own moon. I think we’ve gone to a place many people thought we would never go - into government together.”
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP also spoke positively in the Assembly about Ian Paisley in the Assembly, even describing his mob attack on the Falls Road in 1964 as a motivator for his own interest in politics.
“Ian Paisley has been a part of the political landscape in the north for as long as I can remember.
“He may be pleased to know that it was his desire to visit the Falls Road - Divis Street - in 1964 that first whetted my interest in Irish politics.
“His journey from those days to where he now sits have been well chronicled.
“My views on his role for most of his career are also well known. So, I will not dwell on that today.
“Except perhaps to note - and he will forgive me for this - that he is the living proof of why a politician should never say never, or ‘never, never, never’.
“Today I want to commend Ian Paisley. Today is a day to praise Caesar not to bury him.”
Mr Adams pointed out that (due to his refusal) Mr Paisley had not talked to his directly until March 26th last year, when we agreed the arrangements which led to the re-establishment of the political institutions.
“Throughout all of our engagements I have always found him cordial and respectful.
“And I am convinced that the good humour and grace and enthusiasm he displayed in public, was good for public confidence, and for all the people of this island.
“So, I wish Dr Paisley well.”
Concluding, Mr Adams pointed to a proverb in the Irish language - “Is fear feasach, go cinnte, e an duine a h’athraionn treo ar leas an phobail agus is fear adhuil e an duine, a mhaireann fada go leor le tairbhe a bhaint as.
“It’s a wise man who can change direction for the common good and it’s a lucky man who lives long enough to enjoy it.
“So good luck.
“Go n-eirigh an bothair leat agus leis do chlann.”