History

Ian Paisley

Ian Paisley is a preacher turned politician who played a controversial yet important role in Northern Ireland's Troubles and the subsequent peace.


As Northern Ireland descended into sectarian violence in the late 1960s, Paisley emerged as protester-in-chief of anything he perceived to threaten its status as part of the United Kingdom.


Paisley would ultimately end his political career as the First Minister of Northern Ireland, sharing power with the republican Sinn Féin party he had long opposed. He resigned as First Minister and leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in 2008 and was made a life peer two years later.



Image: Ian Paisley takes his seat as MP for North Antrim - Westminster, June 1970 (Getty Images)

Introduction

Ian Paisley takes his seat as MP for North Antrim - Westminster, June 1970 (Getty Images) Ian Paisley

Highlights from BBC programmes Video (5)

More information about: Ian Paisley

Ian Richard Kyle Paisley was born on 6 April 1926, in County Armagh, Northern Ireland. He followed his father, James Kyle Paisley, an Independent Baptist pastor, into a life of religious devotion.

The young Ian Paisley began his theological training at the Barry School of Evangelism (now called the Wales Evangelical School of Theology). His religious and political beliefs were inextricably linked from the outset. In addition to co-founding the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), he was the founding member of the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster.

In 1951, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland forbade one of its congregations from holding a meeting at which Paisley was to be the speaker. The leaders of the congregation responded by leaving and establishing a new denomination called the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster. Paisley soon became moderator of the new denomination and was re-elected every year, bar one, for 57 years.

A political preacher

Paisley's imposing presence and dramatic oratorical style came to wider attention 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.

His extreme views on the Catholic Church were a regular source of controversy throughout his career. When Pope John Paul II visited the European Parliament in 1988, Paisley shouted: "I denounce you, Anti-Christ! I refuse you as Christ's enemy and Antichrist with all your false doctrine."

Paisley has been accused of exacerbating sectarian tensions and encouraging some to turn to violence to further their aims, claims he denies.

Election and opposition

In 1970, he was elected to Westminster as the Protestant Unionist MP for North Antrim. A year later, he helped found the Democratic Unionist Party which he led until 2008. He was elected a member of the European Parliament in 1979.

Paisley consistently used his political platform to fiercely oppose any measure that he saw as damaging Northern Ireland's place within the United Kingdom or giving the Republic of Ireland any influence in its affairs.

In 1973, he played a key role in orchestrating the Ulster Workers' Council Strike, which brought down the Sunningdale Agreement - the first concerted political attempt to end the Troubles.

Paisley was also vehemently opposed to the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985, which was intended to address many of the constitutional issues at the heart of ongoing sectarian violence. This included giving the Irish government an advisory role in Northern Ireland. He vilified the British Prime Minister who signed the deal, Margaret Thatcher, for what he saw as her betrayal of unionism.

He also campaigned against the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, which eventually led to the peace deal that ended the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The DUP was the only major political party to withdraw from negotiations - over the issue of the decommissioning of the IRA's weapons - but it did continue to contest elections.

Paisley in power

By 2005, the DUP had become Northern Ireland's largest unionist party, displacing its longstanding rival the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP). The Northern Ireland Assembly had been suspended since 2002, but when it reconvened in May 2007, the seemingly impossible had happened: Ian Paisley became Northern Ireland's new First Minister in the power sharing executive, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness as Deputy First Minister.

Despite the bitter rivalry and rhetoric of the past, the pair became colloquially known as the 'Chuckle Brothers' because of their unexpectedly good relationship.

Even so, Paisley was now entering his eighties and began to withdraw from public life. In January 2008, he stepped down as moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church and a few months later in May as First Minister and leader of the DUP.

Retirement

In 2010, Paisley retired as a Westminster MP. His son, Ian Paisley Junior, was elected to his seat in the general election that year. Paisley Senior was ennobled as Baron Bannside, of North Antrim, in the County of Antrim. He chose the title of Bannside, a now defunct constituency, as it was the place where his parliamentary career began.

Paisley's long, controversial and colourful political journey has ended with compromises in his once uncompromising vision for Northern Ireland.

In a revealing documentary for the BBC in January 2014, Paisley discussed the discrimination against Catholics and nationalists that once existed in Northern Ireland, when electoral districts were routinely 'gerrymandered' and many Catholics were excluded from voting in local elections.

"If you vote down democracy, you are responsible for bringing in anarchy," he said. It wasn't one man, one vote. I mean, that's no way to run a country."