Death of Ian Paisley, politician and religious leader from Northern Ireland

Christine Kinealy

On September 12, Ian Paisley, a political and religious leader from Northern Ireland, passed away at age 88. Christine Kinealy, professor of history and director of Ireland's Great HUnger Institute, is available to comment.

"His death marks the end of an era in Irish politics," said Kinealy.

"Paisley combined conservative politics with traditional Protestantism, opposing in equal measure Irish nationalism and Catholicism (which he referred to as Popery). The son of a Baptist minister, he became an advocate of "Bible Protestantism," helping to found the free Presbyterian Church, of which he was moderator for 57 years. He also founded his own political party - the Democratic Unionist Party, which favored a hardline approach to maintaining the union with Britain.

"Paisley's intransigent political views made him no stranger to controversy or confrontation. Throughout the years of the 'Troubles,' he repeatedly refused to accept any solution that involved cooperation with nationalists. His unwillingness to compromise earned him the nick-name 'Dr. No' (he having been awarded an honorary doctorate by Bob Jones University).

"In July 2006, as the Peace Process seemed on the verge of collapse, Paisley said that he would agree to Sinn Féin being in government 'over our dead bodies.' Yet, three months later, Paisley agreed to allow the Democratic Unionist Party to be part of the Northern Ireland Assembly. In return, he was appointed First Minister, with Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin as deputy First Minister. This spectacular U-turn was possibly Paisley's greatest contribution to politics in Northern Ireland, although it came late in his political career and lost him some support from the very hard-liners that he had cultivated for decades.

"Paisley's legacy is complex and multi-faceted. As news of his death is received throughout the world, it is inevitable that tributes will focus on his contribution to the Peace Process, which was significant if belated. They will also mention his powers of oratory, his love of family, his work for Catholics in his parliamentary constituency, and his great sense of humor. These are all true. In the longer-term, however, Paisley's contributions have to be judged against by his actions both before and after 2006.   For now though, this man of cloth will have to meet his Maker. It will be an interesting encounter."

To speak to Kinealy, please call John Morgan, associate vice president for public relations at Quinnipiac, at 203-206-4449 (cell).

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