Tributes across the divide as Ian Paisley dies aged 88
NORTHERN Ireland political stalwart Dr Ian Paisley has died.
The former First Minister of Northern Ireland Dr Paisley (88) passed away peacefully this morning, according to his wife Eileen.
"My beloved husband, Ian, entered his eternal rest this morning," Baroness Paisley said.
"Although ours is the grand hope of reunion, naturally as a family we are heartbroken.
"We loved him and he adored us, and our earthly lives are forever changed."
According to Dr Paisley's wishes, his funeral will be private and attended only by the immediate family, as will be his burial.
Baroness Paisley said that they plan to hold a public memorial service later on in the year.
As the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), he and Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness were elected First Minister and deputy First Minister respectively on 8 May 2007.
Mr McGuinness today expressed regret and sadness.
"Once political opponents, I have lost a friend," he said. "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.
"In the brief period that we worked together I developed a close working relationship with him which developed into a friendship, which despite our many differences lasted beyond his term in office."
Ian Paisley's religious and political beliefs were inextricably linked from the beginning.
Born on April 6, 1926 in Armagh, the young Paisley followed the same religious career as his father James, an Independent Baptist pastor. At six feet five inches tall, Paisley soon became moderator of the Church, and was re-elected every year, bar one, for 57 years.
His dramatic style of speech and imposing presence came to prominence in 1963 when he organised a protest march against the decision to lower the union flag at Belfast City Hall on the death of Pope John XXIII.
Dr Paisley who was once a fierce opponent of sharing government powers with Republicans in Northern Ireland, retired as both First Minister and leader of the Free Presbyterian Church in 2008.
Former Taoiseach Brian Cowen told the Herald: "His legacy as First Minister in the Northern administration was that he worked at building a positive relationship with Martin McGuinness and with the Irish Government."