The Wall Street Journal reports…
“The Rev. Ian Paisley, the divisive Protestant firebrand who devoted his life to thwarting compromise with Catholics in Northern Ireland only to become a pivotal peacemaker in his twilight years, died Friday in Belfast, his wife said. He was 88.
Mr. Paisley was Northern Ireland’s most polarizing politician throughout its three decades of civil strife. Yet at the zenith of his peace-wrecking powers, Mr. Paisley in 2007 stunned the world by delivering its first stable unity government between its British Protestants and its Irish Catholics. “Dr. No,” as he was widely known, finally said yes—and his powerful U-turn cemented a peace process that he had done so much to frustrate.
From the conflict in Northern Ireland’s earliest days, Mr. Paisley prophesied damnation for any Protestant politician or church leader who dared to build bridges with the Catholic Church and Irish nationalists.
Hostile to the establishment, Mr. Paisley built his own extremist power base. His evangelical sect, the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster, labeled the pope as the Antichrist and called the major Protestant denominations ecumenical Judases. His Democratic Unionist Party insisted that Northern Ireland’s union with Britain couldn’t tolerate concessions to Irish nationalist demands.
Often backed by the brooding menace of Protestant mobs and masked men, Paisley led club-wielding blockades of 1960s Catholic civil rights marches, demanded the military destruction of a resurgent Irish Republican Army, and denounced the U.S.-brokered Good Friday peace accord of 1998 as a surrender to “the men of blood” in the IRA’s Sinn Féin party.
In 2003, Mr. Paisley’s party won most seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly. Protestants had given him an absolute veto over any resumption of cooperation with Sinn Féin, an apparent Doomsday scenario for power-sharing.
Mr. Paisley declared there wasn’t “a snowball’s chance in hell” he would work with Sinn Féin unless the IRA surrendered all weapons and disbanded publicly. Upping the ante, he called on Sinn Féin leaders to don “sackcloth and ashes,” an Old Testament ritual for demonstrating repentance and shame.
Mr. Paisley seemed determined to humiliate his enemies—yet this time his unbending reputation suited the cause of lasting peace.
The IRA in 2005 disarmed and renounced violence, transforming its truce from open-ended to permanent. Sinn Féin in January 2007 voted to support the police, accepting the legitimacy of the Northern Ireland state for the first time.
Even then, Mr. Paisley demanded more. He called on Sinn Féin leaders to confess to police all the unsolved IRA crimes they and their colleagues had committed.
When the Democratic Unionists increased their Assembly strength in March 2007 elections, Mr. Paisley insisted he wouldn’t start talking face-to-face with Sinn Féin, never mind form a cabinet with them.
Yet within a few weeks, Mr. Paisley appeared alongside Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams live on TV to declare that their two parties had buried the hatchet.
“We must not allow our justified loathing of the horrors and tragedies of the past to become a barrier to creating a better and more stable future,” Mr. Paisley said in that address, the first time he ever shared a platform with Sinn Féin.
To the surprise of many, Paisley embraced his new role as Northern Ireland’s first minister with a relaxed demeanor, most strikingly when working alongside his government co-leader, former IRA commander Martin McGuinness.
Yet at Mr. Paisley’s insistence, they never shook hands. Mr. McGuinness said he understood and didn’t push the issue.
Mr. Paisley stepped down as leader of the government and the Democratic Unionists in 2008.
He retired from the House of Commons in 2010 and from Northern Ireland’s Assembly in 2011. The British government elevated him to the upper House of Lords, giving him the title Lord Bannside, a reference to the river that divides Northern Ireland.
He is survived by his wife, three daughters, two sons and many grandchildren.”