- See also Ian Paisley, Jr.
The Rev. Ian Paisley, MP,
Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, Moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church.
In the early 1950s Ian Paisley helped to establish the first Free Presbyterian Church in Northern Ireland. He then following a vote in his own church joined the Free Presbyterian Church and was elected moderator of it, keeping this post ever since. He subsequently set up his own newspaper, the Protestant Telegraph as a mechanism for further spreading his message. He is also the founder and leader of the Democratic Unionist Party.
In the 1960s he campaigned against Prime Minister of Northern Ireland Terence O'Neill's rapprochement with the Republic of Ireland and his meetings with his counterpart in the Republic, Sean Lemass. He opposed efforts by O'Neill as prime minister to deliver civil rights to the minority nationalist community in Northern Ireland, notably the abolition of gerrymandering of local electoral areas for the election of urban and county councils. Paisley's hardline approach (summed up in his catchphrase "no surrender") led him in turn to attack O'Neill's successors as prime minister, Major James Chichester-Clark (later called Lord Moyola) and Brian Faulkner. Paisley opposed the 1972 suspension by the British government of Edward Heath of the Northern Ireland parliament and government (known collectively by the term Stormont due to the location of Parliament Buildings on the Belfast estate). He opposed the Sunningdale Agreement which sought to rework relationships between Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom, and which provided for a power-sharing executive (government) involving both communities in Northern Ireland, and a controversial all-island Council of Ireland linking Northern Ireland and the Republic on a legal but not constitutional level. Sunningdale collapsed following the Ulster Workers' Strike which cut water and electricity supplies to many homes, and the failure of the British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Merlyn Rees and the British Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, to defend the power-sharing executive. Supporters of Paisley played an important role in orchestrating the strike.
The largest personal vote for any politician in Northern Ireland
In the 1970s Paisley, sometimes affectionately known as 'Big Ian', established the most successful and longest lasting of his political movements, the Democratic Unionist Party which soon won seats at local council, province, national and European level; Paisley was elected one of Northern Ireland's three Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) at the first elections to the Brussels and Strasbourg-based European Parliament in 1979 and easily retained that seat in every European election until he stood down in 2004, receiving the highest popular vote of any Northern Irish, Irish or British MEP (although as the rest of the UK uses a different electoral system it is hard to compete with this total) and one of the highest anywhere in Europe. The DUP also holds seats in the British House of Commons and has been elected to each of the Northern Ireland conventions and assemblies set up since the party's creation. It has long been the major challenger to the major unionist party, the Ulster Unionist Party (known for a time in the 1970s and 1980s as the Official Unionist Party (OUP) to distinguish it from the then multitude of other unionist parties, some set up by deposed former leaders).
Ian Paisley says 'Ulster Says No'
In the 1980s Paisley like all the major unionist leaders opposed the Anglo-Irish Agreement (1985), signed by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Irish Taoiseach (prime minister) Dr. Garret FitzGerald. The AIA provided for an Irish input into the British governing of Northern Ireland, through an Anglo-Irish Secretariat based at Maryfield, outside Belfast and meetings of the Anglo Irish Conference co-chaired by the Republic's Minister for Foreign Affairs and Britain's Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Vast crowds attended mass rallies addressed by then UUP leader James Molyneaux and Paisley at which the slogan "Ulster Says No " was used to express unionist opposition by what its critics alleged was a form of joint authority over Northern Ireland. Paisley controversially set up an unofficial paramilitary unit which met secretly called the Third Force. However though violent resistance to what was claimed to be "Dublin rule" was threatened, it did not materialise from the Third Force, which was soon discredited and faded away.
The Good Friday Agreement
Paisley's DUP was initially involved in the negotiations under former United States senator, George J. Mitchell that led to the Belfast Agreement (also known as the Good Friday Agreement on account of the day on which it was signed.) However the party withdrew in protest when Sinn Féin, a republican party with its own paramilitary wing that had killed over a thousand people in Northern Ireland since 1970 but which had since gone on indefinite ceasefire, was allowed to participate after the ceasefire. Paisley and his party opposed the Agreement in the referendum that followed its signing, and which saw the Agreement approved reasonably comfortably in Northern Ireland and by over 90% of voters in the Republic of Ireland. As part of the deal, the south changed the wording of the controversial Articles 2 and 3 of its constitution, which had originally claimed its government's de jure right to govern the whole island of Ireland, including Northern Ireland. The DUP fought the resulting election to the Northern Ireland Assembly, to which Paisley was elected, while keeping his seats in the Westminster and European parliaments. The DUP took two seats in the multi-party power-sharing executive (Paisley, like the leaders of the Social Democratic and Labour Party and Sinn Féin chose not to become a minister) but while serving as ministers refused to sit in at meetings of the Executive Committee (cabinet) in protest at Sinn Fein's participation. The Executive ultimately was suspended over unionist unhappiness on the slow nature of Provisional Irish Republican Army disarmament (The Provisional IRA and Sinn Féin sought to justify the slow pace by claiming that others' parties to the deal, notably the unionists and the British Government, were slow in implementing other areas of the Agreement that were of great importance to republicans). The discovery of a republican spy network operating among civil servants in the seat of government and parliament, Stormont, led to the ultimate decision to suspend the institutions created under the Belfast Agreement. While the Agreement has not been scrapped, its institutions remain in suspended animation, pending a resolution of the issues of IRA disarmament and the full implementation of all the Agreement's provisions.
A Complex Man
Ian Paisley is generally viewed as an enigma. Though a religious leader, his language has been condemned by others as extreme and provocative. Though fiercely anti the Roman Catholic Church (as an MEP he verbally abused Pope John Paul II in the parliamentary chamber when the Pontiff came to address the European Parliament), he attracts a notable number of Catholic votes in his Westminster and European constituencies (famously attracting all the votes from an entirely Catholic off-shore island), where he has a reputation as a hardworking MP who will help or defend anyone whatever his or her religious beliefs and his views of them. Though critical of the Republic of Ireland he has religious followers in the Republic and as a religious leader with southern followers has met the Irish Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, in Government Buildings in Dublin. Then, to everyone's surprise, he met Bertie Ahern in Dublin in September 2004 in his capacity as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party. From the 1960s, one of his main rivals was civil rights leader and second leader of the nationalist SDLP, John Hume. Though their parties are so often at loggerheads, Hume and Paisley worked jointly on behalf of Northern Ireland in the European Parliament and on occasion work jointly in the House of Commons. Indeed the complexity of their relationship was demonstrated when it was discovered that Hume had visited Paisley's home to dine with Ian and his wife Eileen on Boxing Day one year in the 1990s. When Hume resigned the leadership of the SDLP, Paisley gave very warm praise of "John" and very accurate estimation of how difficult the SDLP would find it to fill the void left by the departing leader. (Some suggested that the comments by Paisley were given because he thought he was just chatting to journalists and that the TV cameras weren't on. The sight of a warm, witty quiet Paisley at that moment contrasted with the usual image of the forceful, loud aggressive Paisley Northern Irish people on all sides were used to seeing!) In one particular irony, having spent most of his career, as he himself jokingly admitted once, saying 'No', Paisley assumed the chairmanship of the Agriculture committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly created by the Belfast Agreement, where he was universally praised (even by Sinn Féin members) as an effective, co-ordinating chairperson who treated all committee members with respect and had a particularly good working relationship with the Minister for Agriculture, the SDLP's Brid Rogers .
Demagogue or Defender?
To his opponents, Paisley is seen as a demagogue, a crude rabble-rouser who spent his political career saying 'no'; no to O'Neill's reform, no to contacts with the Republic, no to Sunningdale, no to the convention, no to James Prior's rolling devolution, no to the Anglo-Irish Agreement, no to the Belfast Agreement. To his opponents (including many in unionism) he is seen as a uniquely destructive influence whose extremism lost potential friends and helped alienate people outside Northern Ireland sympathetic to unionism. (Former members of loyalist terrorist groups on ceasefire thanks to the Good Friday Agreement verbally attacked Paisley at one press conference, saying that as impressionable teenagers they had been attracted to extreme loyalism by his allegedly "violent" and "provocative" language, they blaming him for the violence that resulted.) His critics see his work in the European Parliament and in Stormont of late and argue that he could have been one of the greatest builders of a new inclusive Northern Ireland. To his supporters however, Ian Kyle Paisley is seen as a passionate and brilliant defender of the union between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. They argue that he stood up for unionists who were under attack from nationalists, from the Republic of Ireland and from British governments always willing to give away unionist rights and ignore unionist fears to placate nationalists and the IRA. To one side, he is seen as the big destroyer whose "extremism" almost destroyed Northern Ireland. To the other, Ian Paisley is the great defender, the protector who saved Northern Ireland from "Rome Rule" and "Dublin rule".
Now in his late 70s, the Rev. Dr. Ian Paisley, MLA, MP is in physically poor health, having aged noticeably, and has been gradually lowering his political profile. Instead he had been devoting much of his time to working with his church on the 'missions' in Africa, where he draws large crowds of converts. His deputy leader of the DUP, Peter Robinson has served as a Minister in the Northern Ireland Executive, where he has earned a large reputation, and is seen as a possible First Minister of Northern Ireland in the next Northern Executive. Robinson is predicted to move the DUP to a more moderate, pragmatic position within electoral unionism. Robinson may however be challenged for the leadership by Ian Paisley, junior, Paisley's son and a senior DUP politician in his own right. Both loved and hated by different elements of both communities, the Rev. Ian Paisley is not expected to contest the next British general election in 2005 or 2006. On January 19 2004 he announced he would not be restanding for the European Parliament in the 2004 elections.
Family confirms tests for unspecified illness
In July 2004 Dr. Paisley's family stated that he had been ungoing tests for an undisclosed illness. The family suggested that the release of the information was to quell widespread rumours within Northern Ireland and abroad that Dr. Paisley was suffering from a potentially terminal illness; one widespread rumour in Northern Ireland suggested cancer. The family declined to indicate the nature of the suspected illness, citing privacy. Though the family statement was reported in general terms, the media in Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom and the Republic Ireland unusually opted not to speculate as to the nature, if any, of Dr. Paisley's illness. Political opponents, both unionist and nationalist, also declined to discuss the marked physical deterioration in Dr. Paisley's health other than to wish him a full recovery.
Ian Paisley and his wife Eileen have three children who have followed their father into politics or religion; Kyle, into the church, their son Ian (a DUP assemblyman) and daughter Rhonda, who served as a member of Belfast City Council but has since left politics. (She once presented a TV chat show on the Republic's Radio Telifís Éireann, Saturday Live where one of her guests was her father Ian, who charmed TV viewers with his personality and good humour, in utter contrast to the normal 'Ian Paisley' seen on news bulletins. Another guest on that show was Irish comedian Brendan Grace)
In 1981, he appeared on a hillside at dead of night with 500 men brandishing firearms licenses and later had a brief alliance with Ulster Resistance, which was not an illegal organisation, but was set up to defend border protestants that the British Government was ignoring.
In 1985 he and the other members of his DUP resigned from Parliament at Westminster in a protest and was returned in the resultant by-election.
- When Terence O'Neill held a meeting with Sean Lemass, Paisley shouted "No mass! No Lemass!"
- After a Loyalist rally in 1968, Ian Paisely justified his violent anti-Catholic pleas by saying, "Catholic homes caught fire because they were loaded with petrol bombs; Catholic churches were attacked and burned because they were arsenals and priests handed out sub-machine guns to parishioners; and the massive discrimination in employment and shortage of houses for Catholics were simply because they breed like "rabbits" and multiply like "vermin".
- In reference to the Unionist party's Jewish candidate, Harold Smith, he said, "The Unionist party are boasting he [Harold Smith] is a Jew. As a Jew, he rejects our Lord Jesus Christ, the New Testament, Protestant principles, the Glorious Reformation and the sanctity of the Lord's day. The Protestant throne and the Protestant constitution are nothing to him."
- In 1968, in a heated debate with the fierce Republican Bernadette Devlin, he responded to her accusations of his unfair assumptions by saying he, "would rather be British than be fair."
- During a visit from the Pope, Ian Paisley yelled "I denounce you. Anti-Christ" several times at the European Parliament. The whole affair can be heard on sermonaudio.com
- "We are not prepared to stand idly by and be murdered in our beds."
- Steve Bruce, God save Ulster! The religion and politics of Paisleyism. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1986.
- Dennis Cooke, Persecuting Zeal: a portrait of Ian Paisley, Brandon Books, 1996.
- Martha Abele Mac Iver, "Ian Paisley and the Reformed Tradition," Political Studies, September 1987.
- Ed Moloney & Andy Pollak, Paisley, Poolbeg Press, 1986.
- Clifford Smyth, Ian Paisley: Voice of Protestant Ulster. Edinburgh: Scottish Academic, 1987.