POLITICS

Ian Paisley Dead: Former Democratic Unionist Party Leader Dies Aged 88

12/09/2014 12:39 BST | Updated 12/09/2014 15:59 BST

The former leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) Dr Ian Paisley has died, his wife said.

Eileen Paisley said the family was heartbroken. Dr Paisley was a firebrand fundamentalist Protestant preacher and politician who led opposition to compromise with the IRA for decades in Northern Ireland.

He became a peacemaker when he entered government with Sinn Fein at Stormont as first minister following a landmark deal. He has been ill for some time.

Baroness Paisley said: "My beloved husband, Ian, entered his eternal rest this morning. "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."

Dr Paisley was aged 88 when he died. He led opposition to any accommodation with republicans for decades and his fiery rhetoric was legendary.

As charismatic leader of the strongly Christian DUP he opposed successive political deals including the Anglo Irish and Good Friday Agreements but agreed to powersharing with Sinn Fein in 2007 following that party's acceptance of the new police force.

He was elected to Westminster in 1970 as the Protestant Unionist MP for North Antrim. A year later he founded the Democratic Unionist Party which he led until 2008. In 1979 he was elected to the European Parliament where his views on the Catholic Church caused controversy - most notably when he denounced Pope John Paul II as the "anti-Christ" during a visit to the parliament in 1988.

He played a key role in orchestrating the Ulster Workers' Council Strike which brought Northern Ireland to a standstill in 1973 and was vehemently opposed to the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement and accused the British prime minister Margaret Thatcher of a betrayal of unionists after she signed the deal which gave the Irish government an advisory role in Northern Ireland.

Even though he was also opposed to the 1998 Good Friday peace accord which eventually ended the Troubles, Mr Paisley ended up sharing power with Sinn Fein when he and his bitter rival Martin McGuinness became First and Deputy First Ministers in 2007.

Mr McGuinness expressed regret and sadness. "Over a number of decades we were political opponents and held very different views on many, many issues but the one thing we were absolutely united on was the principle that our people were better able to govern themselves than any British government.

"I want to pay tribute to and comment on the work he did in the latter days of his political life in building agreement and leading unionism into a new accommodation with republicans and nationalists.

"In the brief period that we worked together in the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister I developed a close working relationship with him which developed into a friendship, which despite our many differences lasted beyond his term in office.

"I want to send my sincere sympathy to his wife, Eileen, his children and extended family."