Irish Republican News · September 12, 2014
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Death of Ian Paisley, aged 88


Politicians have been expressing their sympathy to the family of Ian Paisley, the former loyalist and unionist leader whose intransigence and hatred of Catholics were world famous, but who also succeeded in making peace on his own terms. He died this Friday morning.

A leader of hardline unionism for four decades, the ‘firebrand preacher’, as he was known in the mainstream media, was being credited today by unionists for an unflinching defence of the union with Britain.

For most nationalists, however, Paisley will be remembered for his blood-thirsty tirades against the influence of ‘Popery’ and Irish Catholics on both sides of the border.


The first Moderator of the schismatic Free Presbyterian Church, Paisley’s early involvement in politics came with his the vigilante ‘Ulster Protestant Action’ (UPA) group in the 1950s. The group advocated fundamentalist ‘Biblical Protestantism’ and aimed to defend Protestant supremacy over Catholics, particularly in jobs and housing, and defeat the remnants of the old IRA.

Paisley later established the paramilitary ‘Ulster Protestant Volunteers’ in 1966 before forming the modern DUP in 1971. He went on to establish another paramilitary group, ‘Third Force’, in 1981 and another, ‘Ulster Resistance’, in response to the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985.

While he later moderated his supported for loyalist murder gangs, the preacher’s speeches and sermons often included rabble-rousing, bible-thumping rhetoric which fueled decades of sectarian killings.

Famously denouncing the Pope as the ‘anti-Christ’ at the European Parliament, he once said of Catholics: “They breed like rabbits and multiply like vermin”.

While nowadays cast as a peacemaker, Paisley saw the 1998 Good Friday Agreement as his greatest challenge and worked to defeat it by challenging his unionist opponent, UUP leader David Trimble, who had signed it.

He won the support of the majority of unionists and secured an alternative peace deal in 2006, the St Andrews Agreement. He hailed that deal as providing a ‘triple lock’ on political change in the north of Ireland and blocking any practical role for the Dublin government in northern affairs.

The next year he was elected First Minister of the Six Counties. Although he saw his mission to preserve the union with Britain as essentially complete, Paisey continued to face criticism by loyalist extremists for his decision to share powers with Sinn Fein at Stormont.

His good-humoured ‘chuckle brother’ appearances at Stormont alongside Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness, a former IRA commander, continued to provoke unrest within the party until he retired from the leadership of the DUP in 2008. He was elevated to Westminster’s House of Lords in 2010 as ‘Baron Bannside’.


Mr McGuinness today expressed regret and sadness at his passing.

“Over a number of decades we were political opponents and held very different views on many, many issues but the one thing we were absolutely united on was the principle that our people were better able to govern themselves than any British government,” he said.

“I want to pay tribute to and comment on the work he did in the latter days of his political life in building agreement and leading unionism into a new accommodation with republicans and nationalists.

“In the brief period that we worked together in the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister I developed a close working relationship with him which developed into a friendship, which despite our many differences lasted beyond his term in office.

“I want to send my sincere sympathy to his wife, Eileen, his children and extended family.”

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said: “Ian was a big man. He had a big heart.

“In my younger days I found him a very difficult character but we ended up very good friends. He was a valuable character in the peace process.”

Mr Ahern said Mr Paisley’s latter years saw him pay a big price politically and personally, in friendships and in his vocation to the Free Presbyterian Church, after some of his associates of the previous 40 or 50 years deserted him.

“I grew to admire him. The more I got to know him, the more I grew to like him,” he told Irish radio.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams also expressed deep shock and and sadness at the death.

“There will be plenty of time for political analysis but at this point I wish to extend my deepest sympathies to Ian’s wife Eileen and to the Paisley family at this very sad time,” he said.


Paisley successor as DUP leader, Peter Robinson said he had been drawn towards politics “by the strength of Ian’s message and by his charisma”.

“He provided firm and decisive leadership when unionism lacked it most and when it needed it most,” he said. “His enthusiasm and sheer joy of life was infectious and he could energise an audience like no other person I have met before or since.”

A “long and glorious period” of history had now closed, he said, with Paisley taking his place in history alongside “the greats” of unionism.

“Like Paul of old he can say, ‘I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.’”

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