Ian Paisley

He gave good tips

I guess not many people in my position could say that. I spent the summer of 1972 working as a porter in a hotel in the centre of Belfast. Ian Paisley and his political colleagues were regulars. He was personally charming and generous as well

But of course there were many other Paisleys.

He opposed attempts to bring necessary change to Northern Ireland and denigrated the efforts of those who did. Yet he became a remarkably effective parliamentarian. For those of us in churches which wanted to move in the direction of reconciliation and peacemaking, he made leadership into a perilously difficult task.

Yet in the end, he decided to claim his place in history by entering a partnership Executive. That move made it possible for the Belfast Agreement to begin to work – halting and fragile though it remains to this day. The tragedy is that he didn’t understand the need to do as Gerry Adams and Martin Maguinness did. For they spent the best part of ten years moving their supporters away from violence and towards politics. It was flawed and messy – but it was what needed to be done. Paisley’s tragedy was that he didn’t see the need – and maybe he wouldn’t have had the skills. And so his move into partnership came at what must have been a painful cost in personal and political relationships.

So a huge figure leaves the stage. And gradually Northern Ireland begins to enter a new phase where the politicians who carry the marks and the history of the conflict are no longer there. That is a necessary part of the journey towards a new and better society.

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