Page last updated at 12:28 GMT, Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Ian Paisley: A life in politics

Ian Paisley
Ian Paisley has been centre stage in a political career spanning 40 years

"This is the end of a significant era in British politics and Ian Paisley has left giant footsteps to fill."

That was how his son, Ian Paisley junior, described his father's decision to stand down from Westminster.

At the age of 83, the founder and ex-leader of the Democratic Unionist Party has announced he will not seek election in the next general election.

The decision by the member for North Antrim signals the end of a 40 year role at Westminster.

Mr Paisley was first elected in April 1970 to the old Stormont parliament and then, in the same year, to Westminster.

During the following decades, he has been centre stage in Northern Ireland politics.

He was also elected to the European Parliament in 1979 and stepped down from that role in 2004. He caused anger among MEPs when he interrupted an address by the late Pope John Paul II in Strasbourg in 1988.

1926: Born Armagh, NI
1946: Ordained
1951: Founded Free Presbyterian Church
1970: Entered Parliament
1979: European Parliament
1998 NI Assembly
2008: Stepped down as first minister
2010: To step down as MP

Famed for his firebrand oratory, Mr Paisley was a founding member of the Free Presbyterian Church in Ireland in 1951.

His evangelical theology heavily influenced his political views and throughout the Troubles, he denounced Catholicism and the papacy.

During the Troubles, he was a fierce critic of power-sharing with nationalists and of the Republic of Ireland having a say in Northern Ireland's affairs.

But in his later political life, the hardline unionist shifted towards an accommodation which finally saw him enter office with his long-time enemy, Sinn Fein.

His decision to accept the position of first minister alongside Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness in 2007 saw him hailed as a peacemaker by moderates but criticised by many former followers.

Their relationship developed during their year in office together, leading some to describle them the "Chuckle Brothers".

Mr Paisley stood down as first minister in 2008. He was replaced by his long-time DUP deputy leader, Peter Robinson.

Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness
Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness had a good relationship

Mr Paisley told the Ballymena Guardian it had been a privilege to represent the area but it was time for a new generation of politicians to build on his legacy.

"I have no doubt the people of North Antrim will again support the DUP at the next election," he said.

Reflecting on his political career, he said he had "no regrets" about the landmark decision to go into power with Sinn Fein three years ago.

"After a period of tough negotiations it was my view that, provided our conditions were met, the overwhelming majority of the people of Northern Ireland wanted me to do the deal, it was as simple as that."

Mr Paisley said he was unhappy that some DUP members, including Jim Allister, left the party in the wake of the move, but insisted he had made the right choice.

"I am sad that some people walked away but I believe I showed the leadership required to get the best possible deal in the circumstances," he added.

It is thought that Ian Paisley Jr will face the TUV leader, Jim Allister, in the constituency at the next Westminster election.

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