herald

Wednesday 13 December 2017

Preacher of hat e who came in from the cold t o bring peace

He was a character that divided opinion across Ireland like no other.

For some, Dr Ian Paisley will be remembered as a firebrand religious hate monger, who contributed to the deadly religious sectarian divide in Northern Ireland.

For others, the former first minister will be remembered for his role in bringing peace to the North, after finally deciding to work with his bitter political opponents, Sinn Fein.

Tributes were yesterday paid to the former Democratic Unionist Party founder, who passed away at the age of 88.

Divide

They came from across the political divide and remembered his journey from a man who once compared Catholic's to "vermin" to the man who shook hands with Bertie Ahern and shared power with former IRA gunmen.

Sinn Fein stalwart, Gerry Adams, offered his condolences to Mr Paisley's family.

"I am shocked and saddened to learn of the death of Ian Paisley.

"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," the Sinn Fein leader said.

Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern also paid tribute to Paisley, calling him "a big man with a big heart" who was also a "good friend".

Mr Ahern also spoke about memories of the clergyman from the time of the peace talks.

"We both came from very different political traditions, but the more I got to know Ian Paisley, the more I respected him and the more I came to like him," he said.

"In my dealings with him, I found him to be unfailingly polite and a man of his word.

"I will never forget his warmth and his sincerity that day he first shook my hand in Farmleigh on a glorious spring day in 2007," he said.

Mr Ahern added: "He had a warm personality, he was witty, he had a keen sense of humour and a booming laugh. This helped to build relationships from the start.

"I remember at our first ever meeting, which was a breakfast summit in the Irish embassy in London, he ordered a hard-boiled egg.

"He then proceeded to tell me, with a twinkle in his eye, that this was to be sure I couldn't poison him.

"It was his way of breaking down barriers."

Another former taoiseach, Brian Cowen, said his legacy was that he worked at building a positive relationship with Martin McGuinness and with the Irish Government.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said that Paisley was a major figure in the history of these islands.

"I know that he treasured the peace and friendship that he had lived to see, and helped to build, between our traditions," he said.

He added: "In time, history will come to a fuller judgement of his long career. And, while he was of course a divisive figure, his greatest legacy will be one of peace."

Peace

Former president, Mary McAleese and her husband Dr Martin McAleese offered their condolences to his wife Eileen Paisley and their children, Rhonda, Sharon, Cherith, Kyle, Ian Jr and their grandchildren.

"Mr Paisley will be remembered by many people in Northern Ireland as a controversial figure, a political giant and spiritual leader," they said.

They added that in more recent years, when he felt the time was right, he became "an influential man of peace".

President Michael D Higgins said that Paisley's early career was characterised by an uncompromising position of a constitutional kind.

He added: "However, his embracing of the change necessary to achieve a discourse that might lead to peace was of immense significance, as was his commitment to building relationships in support of that peace."

Labour Party leader Joan Burton said that Mr Paisley worked hard for all those that he represented.

She added: "He also travelled a significant political journey.

"From a figure who opposed civil rights and the peace process, he ultimately came to accept power-sharing and inclusion and applied himself fully to that."

Ms Burton said that Paisley was one of the most controversial figures of the last 50 years and his passing will give rise to much debate.

"The journey he travelled, in many ways, encapsulates the triumph of the peace process and constitutional politics, and the futility of so much of what came before," Fianna Fail leader, Micheal Martin, said.

Former British prime minister Tony Blair said Mr Paisley was a man of deep convictions.

"The convictions never changed. But his appreciation of the possibilities of peace, gradually and with much soul searching, did. He began as the militant. He ended as the peacemaker," Mr Blair said.

Former British secretary of state for Northern Ireland Peter Hain said Mr Paisley was the "big man" of Northern Ireland politics.

He said that the Good Friday Agreement could not have been achieved without him.

Mr Hain said that Paisley brought old enemies together.

hnews@herald.ie

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