Opponent turned peacebroker, Northern Ireland firebrand Ian Paisley makes Parliament exit

By David Stringer, AP
Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Northern Ireland firebrand makes Parliament exit

LONDON — Protestant firebrand Ian Paisley — the Northern Ireland naysayer turned peacebroker — made a final appearance Wednesday in Parliament, capping a 40-year career by lauding a peace process that he long opposed.

Speaking in the showpiece weekly questions session with Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the 83-year-old evangelist called on the British leader to continue the process of “deliverance and victory and peace” in the province.

Paisley, who led the fledgling Protestant-Catholic government in Northern Ireland in 2007-08, is quitting his House of Commons seat before a United Kingdom-wide election expected in May. He has represented the largely rural Protestant district of North Antrim since 1970.

After a lifetime of rallying Protestants against compromise with Roman Catholics, Paisley finally backed plans for peace — taking the unexpected step in 2007 of forming a government alongside a former Irish Republican Army commander.

The unlikely allies — a cleric hated by Catholics and ex-IRA man Martin McGuinness — worked together so well they were nicknamed “the chuckle brothers.”

The British and Irish governments had long dismissed Paisley as a destructive bigot and froze him out of negotiations from 1998 to 2003. But after Paisley led his Democratic Unionists to election victories that made his party the largest in Northern Ireland, they relied on his ability to deliver Protestant backing for compromise with the Catholic minority.

“The part he played in bringing the (pro-British) unionist community together, indeed in bringing the whole community together in Northern Ireland to ensure that we have devolution of power, and to ensure now that we have completed the process of devolution of power, is one that will adorn the history books in many decades and centuries to come,” Brown said.

Paisley, whose voice cracked with emotion as he spoke, referred to conflict and bloodshed in Afghanistan, Northern Ireland and elsewhere, calling it “the sadness, the sorrow and the dark shadow that lies upon the whole of our world today.”

He urged Brown to push ahead with the peace process as lawmakers listened in rare hushed silence.

Paisley’s son Ian Paisley Jr. will seek to succeed his father in North Antrim, but faces opposition from a prominent Democratic Unionist defector who opposes power-sharing with Catholics.

Associated Press Writer Shawn Pogatchnik in Dublin contributed to this report.

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