FIRST Minister Alex Salmond has led the tributes to former Democratic Unionist Party leader Ian Paisley, describing him as a “major figure in the politics of these islands”.
The firebrand Protestant preacher and politician – who led opposition to compromise with the IRA for decades in Northern Ireland – died yesterday after a period of ill-health.
Reverend Dr Paisley became a peacemaker when he entered government with Sinn Fein at Stormont as first minister following a landmark deal.
His death has led to some of the biggest names in British and Irish politics paying their respects to a man once nicknamed ‘Dr No’.
Mr Salmond said: “Ian Paisley was a major figure in the politics of these islands who I first got to know at Westminster as a warm, personable fellow MP, despite the obvious differences in our political outlook.
“He and I became first ministers in the same month and it was a matter of considerable pride that my first speech outside Scotland in that role was at the Assembly in Belfast, where I was warmly welcomed by Dr Paisley.
“His long political journey to become Northern Ireland’s first minister, ultimately sitting down with his long-time opponents and playing a critical role in promoting reconciliation across communities, is well-documented and will leave a precious and enduring legacy.
“His passing will be mourned across Northern Ireland, as it will be in Scotland and further afield. I send my condolences to his wife Eileen and to his wider family and friends.”
Known as Lord Bannside after joining the House of Lords in 2010, Dr Paisley was leader of the Democratic Unionist Party from 1971 until 2008. He served as first minister, with his former rival Martin McGuinness as his deputy, from 2007 to 2008, and was MP for North Antrim for 40 years.
His death was announced by his wife Eileen who said her beloved husband had “entered his eternal rest”.
She said: “Although ours is the grand hope of reunion, naturally as a family we are heartbroken.
“We loved him and he adored us, and our earthly lives are forever changed.
President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, described Mr Paisley as a man of deep convictions. “Irrespective of one’s political perspective, Dr Paisley was undoubtedly a man of immense influence on the contemporary history of this island,” the president said.
“His early career was characterised by an uncompromising position of a constitutional kind.
“However, his embracing of the change necessary to achieve a discourse that might lead to peace was of immense significance, as was his commitment to building relationships in support of that peace.”
David Cameron his decision to take his party into government with Sinn Fein required “great courage and leadership”.