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Ian Paisley

Ian Paisley was a prominent figure in Northern Ireland, serving as the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) from 1971 to 2008 and as First Minister of Northern Ireland from 2007 to 2008.

Born in Armagh and raised in Ballymena, Paisley began his career as a Protestant evangelical minister in 1946. In 1951, he co-founded the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster, where he served as leader until 2008. Known for his fiery sermons, Paisley preached staunchly against Catholicism, ecumenism, and homosexuality, amassing a significant following known as Paisleyites.

Entering politics in the late 1950s, Paisley played a pivotal role in opposing the Catholic civil rights movement, contributing to the eruption of the Troubles in the late 1960s. He founded the DUP in 1971 and was elected as Member of Parliament for North Antrim in 1970, later becoming a Member of the European Parliament in 1979.

Throughout the Troubles, Paisley vehemently opposed power-sharing agreements between unionists and nationalists, as well as any involvement of the Republic of Ireland in Northern Irish affairs. His opposition helped thwart the Sunningdale Agreement of 1974 and challenged the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985. He even attempted to establish a paramilitary movement known as Ulster Resistance.

Ian Paisley’s opposition to the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland played a pivotal role in shaping the Troubles. In the mid-1960s, as a response to growing calls for equality and an end to discrimination against Catholics, Paisley instigated loyalist opposition to civil rights initiatives and Prime Minister Terence O’Neill’s reform policies, which he perceived as too accommodating. In 1966, Paisley co-founded the Ulster Constitution Defence Committee (UCDC) and its paramilitary wing, the Ulster Protestant Volunteers (UPV). The emergence of the UCDC and UPV coincided with the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising, and loyalist paramilitary groups like the UVF and others aligned themselves with Paisley’s initiatives. 

The culmination of Paisley’s opposition efforts was the Ulster Workers’ Council (UWC) strike in 1974, aimed at bringing down the Sunningdale Agreement, which proposed power-sharing between unionists and nationalists in Northern Ireland. The strike, supported by loyalist paramilitary groups, paralyzed Northern Ireland for fourteen days and ultimately led to the collapse of the Agreement.

Paisley’s opposition to the Good Friday Agreement and his subsequent involvement in the Northern Ireland Assembly marked the dramatic twilight of his career. In 2007, he assumed the role of First Minister, sharing power with Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness. Paisley retired from politics in 2010, becoming a life peer as Baron Bannside, and passed away in 2014, leaving a complicated legacy of bigotry that mellowed into tolerance.

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  • more of a ‘force for good’

  • Less of a ‘force for good’


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