Northern Ireland firebrand turned peacemaker Ian Paisley dies

Fri Sep 12, 2014 10:55am EDT
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By Maurice Neill

BELFAST (Reuters) - Firebrand Protestant cleric Ian Paisley, whose unlikely alliance with bitter Catholic rivals helped to bring a belated peace to Northern Ireland, died on Friday aged 88, his family said.

As the leading light of hardline Unionism, which wants to maintain links to the United Kingdom, Paisley stringently opposed any concession to the mainly Catholic nationalist community's desire for closer ties with the Irish Republic to the south.

But in a dramatic u-turn seven years ago, Paisley agreed to share power with former foes to become first minister in Northern Ireland's devolved government.

"I think we confounded the world by him, a pro-British, pro-Unionist politician, being able to work in a positive spirit with myself, an Irish Republican," said former Irish Republican Army commander Martin McGuinness, who became Paisley's deputy.

"A friendship grew out of that, and it's a friendship that lasted to this very day," McGuinness, the province's deputy first minister, told the Irish national broadcaster RTE.

Paisley's family said he died early on Friday and that a private funeral would be held in the coming days. "My beloved husband, Ian, entered his eternal rest this morning," his wife Eileen said in a statement.

His family did not specify the cause of death. Paisley had a history of heart trouble and fell ill with heart problems in 2005, writing afterwards that he was "walking in death's shadow". In 2011 he had a pacemaker fitted after being taken ill in the House of Lords and he spent 10 days in intensive care a year later with a heart condition.

"NO SURRENDER"   Continued...

Democratic Unionist Party leader Ian Paisley smiles as he talks to media in Downing Street in this March 22, 2007 file photograph. REUTERS/Kieran Doherty/File