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Tuesday 13 October 2015

Obituary: Ian Paisley (1926-2014)

Posted in: Comment
By Politics and religion commentator Craig Young - 14th September 2014

Ian Paisley: 1926-2014
Ian Paisley, former leader of the anti-gay Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland, has died from cardiovascular complications at eighty-eight. In this column, I will review his controversial life and political career.

Born in 1926, Paisley was always a fiercely sectarian fundamentalist Protestant. Earning a theological 'doctorate' from a US fundamentalist theological college, he founded his "Free Presbyterian Church" in 1951. During Northern Ireland's "Troubles" and civil war between Northern Ireland's nationalist Protestants who wished to remain an integral part of the United Kingdom, and the predominantly Catholic Irish Republican Army (IRA), Paisley remained intransigent, opposing successive peace treaties between the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland (1973, 1985), until an enduring peace deal was finally struck in 1998. After the onset of the "Troubles," Paisley founded the Democratic Unionist Party in 1971, as protest against the 'establishment' Ulster Unionist Party, which tended to be more strongly allied to the Conservative Party in mainland Great Britain. Over the decades, the DUP has steadily eroded the UUP's voter share in Northern Ireland, under a Single Transferable Vote form of proportional representation for its elections to Westminster.

After final peace was negotiated in 1998 and the IRA laid down its weapons, Paisley resolved his differences with his former Catholic adversaries, eventually even serving as Northern Ireland's First Minister (2007-8) in a power-sharing arrangement with former Sinn Fein adversary Martin McGuiness. Thereafter, Paisley's health began to deteriorate. He resigned as Democratic Unionist MP for North Antrim in 2010 after forty years in office, was hospitalised for cardiovascular problems in 2011, gave his last ministerial oration in 2012 and died on Friday 12 September.

Oddly enough, despite adamantly anti-Catholic apocalyptic conspiracy theories about the role of the Vatican in Irish and global politics, Paisley agreed with conservative Catholics when it came to issues such as opposition to abortion rights and the decriminalisation of male homosexuality. In 1977, Paisley was the ringleader behind formation of "Save Ulster from Sodomy" campaign which lasted until 1982. Over five years, it (unsuccessfully) fought the extension of the UK Sexual Offences Act 1967 and its partial decriminalisation of homosexuality to Northern Ireland. After Dudgeon versus Northern Ireland (1982) in the European Court of Human Rights, however, it finally lost as the Thatcher administration (!) presided over decriminalisation at long last. As time went on, so did legislative reforms- with the advent of the Blair administration, antidiscrimination legislation and civil unions spread to Northern Ireland, while Ulster's LGBT communities won inclusive adoption reform in the courts. Meanwhile, though, the DUP-led Stormont devolved Northern Ireland Parliament is stonewalling over the uptake of civil marriage equality and reduction of blood donation ban tenure.

Since Paisley's ebb from power, the Democratic Unionist Party has provided an amusing sideshow of hypocrisy. Paul Berry, an ex-DUP council candidate, was caught literally with his pants down in a compromising position with a gay masseur in a Belfast hotel. And then there's Iris Robinson, former DUP MP and adulterous spouse of Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson. Iris (58) was found to be carrying on with young Kirk McCambley (21), former butchers apprentice and cafe owner. Amusingly enough, this occurred at a time that Iris adamantly trumpeted her opposition to LGBT rights and support for pseudo-scientific "exgay" "reparative" therapy.

Paisley is survived by his wife Eileen and their children.

"Ian Paisley: Politicians and Religious Leaders react to death" BBC News: 12.09.2014:
Democratic Unionist Party:
Steve Bruce: Religion and Politics in Northern Ireland: Oxford: Oxford University Press: 2007.

Politics and religion commentator Craig Young - 14th September 2014

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