Ian Paisley was a hardline Ulster Unionist politician who was famous for opposing any peace settlement or Irish intervention in Ulster (Northern Ireland)
For many years, Ian Paisley’s war cry was “No, No, No”, “Never, never, never! – “NO surrender”
He bitterly opposed the Catholic civil rights movement. The failure of this civil rights movement led to the IRA taking up arms and a campaign of violence in the province. Paisley was guilty of inciting anti-Catholic feeling.
“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”
– Paisley at a loyalist rally in 1968 following attacks on Catholic homes.
“They breed like rabbits and multiply like vermin”
– Paisley talking about Catholics at a loyalist rally in 1969.
Ian Paisley was highly critical of the Catholic Church. In 1988, he had to be physically removed from the European Parliament after interrupting a speech by Pope John Paul II – Paisely, never a man for mincing his words, denounced the Pope as the Antichrist
“I denounce you, Anti-Christ! I refuse you as Christ’s enemy and Antichrist with all your false doctrine” – addressing Pope John Paul II on a visit to the European Parliament October 1988.
– a cry he repeated many times.
Paisley vociferously opposed the 1985 Anglo-Irish Peace Treaty. He campaigned against the Good Friday Peace Accord of 1988.
“I will never sit down with Gerry Adams… he’d sit with anyone. He’d sit down with the devil. In fact, Adams does sit down with the devil” – on Adams in February 1997.
Yet, in the evening of his life he had made a u-turn and agreed to a power sharing agreement with Sinn Fein – his long-term bitterest enemy. He formed a working relationship with Martin McGuinness (a former IRA Commander) and the two became good friends as they worked in a new Stormont Parliament.
“If anybody had told me a few years ago that I would be doing this, I would have been unbelieving”
– inside Parliament Buildings, Stormont, after agreeing to enter a power-sharing government with former IRA leader Martin McGuinness.
“People have come out of a dark tunnel and they can see there is a path out there for us. I think it has put a lot of faith and hope into people”
– on the eve of being sworn in as first minister of the power-sharing government.
Part of the radical transformation in Paisley was the fact that the IRA had announced a ceasefire and given up its weapons. Sinn Fein also came to accept the Northern Irish police force. With these concessions from the Republicans, Paisley was able to come to a power sharing agreement.
“Today, we can confidently state that we are making progress to ensure that our two countries can develop and grow side by side in a spirit of generous co-operation. Old barriers and threats have been, and are being, removed daily”
– After meeting Irish PM Bertie Ahern 2007
He even told McGuinness on their first day of working together than ‘We don’t need any Englishman coming over to tell us what to do.’ McGuinness paid a moving tribute to his former adversary, shortly after Paisley’s death
“In rising above old enmities, we pointed the way to a better and peaceful future.”
Some argue Paisley’s conversion to power sharing should have come many decades earlier. His vitriolic rhetoric against Catholicism and Republicanism has still left an indelible mark on Northern Ireland creating a sense of sectarian divide that still is deeply entrenched in the culture and politics of the province.
Nevertheless, the fact the man who said “NEVER” came to a power sharing agreement with his ‘enemies’ is still grounds for hope. It is a sign that even with the deepest enmity and bitterness, there is the chance to work together with people of a different tradition.
Northern Ireland still has deep sectarian divides, but the future is more hopeful and more optimistic than for many decades. The fact that the man who said ‘No’, came to say Yes, let’s work together is part of that jigsaw.
- Paisley quotes at BBC