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Tuesday, March 16, 1999 Published at 15:11 GMT

Ian Paisley: Ulster's No man

Ian Paisley: 'Ulster is British'

By BBC News Online's Gary Duffy

For more than three decades, Rev Ian Paisley has been a towering figure on Northern Ireland's political stage.

He first attracted major public attention in 1963 when he organised a protest march against the decision to lower the union flag at Belfast City Hall to mark the death of Pope John.

[ image: Stormont: Paisley opposed power sharing executive in 1974.]
Stormont: Paisley opposed power sharing executive in 1974.
Fierce opposition to the Catholic Church combined with a determination to resist the cause of Irish nationalism have always been the cornerstone of Mr Paisley's beliefs.

With his large stature and booming preacher's voice, the Democratic Unionist leader is undoubtedly the most easily recognisable figure among Northern Ireland's politicians. He was elected an MP in 1970, and an MEP in 1979.

His opponents have always had to endure angry public denunciations and accusations of betrayal. In the 1960s, the moderate Prime Minister Terence O'Neil was berated as a traitor to the unionist cause.

His critics claimed Mr Paisley's words inflamed sectarian passions and may have encouraged some people to turn to violence.

The DUP leader insisted he could not be held responsible for the actions of others, even if they may at one time have been his followers.

Resisted Dublin influence

The Search for Peace
In later years, when direct rule was imposed from London, successive secretaries of state for Northern Ireland had to endure his wrath.

Mr Paisley resisted any agreement which he believed would extend the influence of the Irish Republic into the affairs of Northern Ireland.

He opposed the Sunningdale Agreement in 1973 and was deeply involved in the Ulster Workers' Strike which brought down the power-sharing administration in 1974.

He also resisted the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985 and the agreement reached at Stormont on Good Friday in 1998.

He remained fiercely opposed to any attempt to let Sinn Fein, the IRA's political wing, take up ministerial posts, or to set up cross-border bodies between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

Now in his 70s, Mr Paisley remains an energetic campaigner for the unionist cause, who has a loyal and devoted following.

[ image: Paisley: relentless campaigner]
Paisley: relentless campaigner
But his relentless opposition to most of the significant attempts to reach a settlement in Northern Ireland over the past 30 years has won him many enemies as well.

In 1999, he caused outrage by using parliamentary privilege to name people he alleged were behind a massacre in Northern Ireland 23 years earlier.

While his party opposed the Good Friday Agreement, they entered the new Northern Ireland Assembly, where they denounced the policies of the Ulster Unionist First Minister David Trimble.

Three decades on, Mr Paisley's determination to resist any compromise which might in his view weaken Northern Ireland's position within the United Kingdom remained absolute.

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In this section

David Trimble: More enemies than friends

John Hume: Midwife to the peace process

Mo Mowlam: London's eternal optimist

Gerry Adams: Between war and peace

Ian Paisley: Ulster's No man

John de Chastelain: Arms and the man

Mallon: Calling a spade a spade

David Ervine: Leaving the past behind