Page last updated at 11:31 GMT, Sunday, 9 March 2008

I did 'smash' Sinn Fein - Paisley

Ian Paisley
Ian Paisley will step down in May

Outgoing Northern Ireland first minister Ian Paisley claims he did achieve his pledge to "smash" his republican rivals Sinn Fein.

Speaking on the BBC1's Andrew Marr Show, he said Sinn Fein could no longer be "true republicans" because they were "in part of the British government".

He had a very good working relationship with his one-time enemy, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, he said.

Mr Paisley, 81, also said he was planning to write a book about himself.

'New generation'

He told Andrew Marr he was standing down because he was no longer a young man.

Denying his departure was the result of a coup within his Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), he said it was time for the "new generation".

"There's a new thinking in Ulster today. There's a generation who have not known the Troubles," he said.

He (Martin McGuinness) knows I'll not be shaking hands with him and that's it
Ian Paisley

"After all, that's the sort of country they want to live in and they should be given the opportunity to help mould that country."

Mr Paisley announced last Tuesday that he would stand down as first minister and leader of the DUP in May.

In addition to looking forward during the interview, he also looked back over his career as a politician and contemplated his legacy.

'A helper'

He told the BBC he had "no major regrets" and that he was a "sinner, saved by the grace of God".

"I have my faults, which are many, which I lament. I want to do the best for my country," he said.

"And I want to say that I believe that when I helped to get a settlement for the Northern Ireland situation, I was only a helper. I mean I don't deserve all the praise".

Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness (05/03/2008)
He said he had a "very good" relationship with Martin McGuinness

Andrew Marr asked Mr Paisley how he could reconcile working with Sinn Fein, the party he wanted to "smash".

"I did smash them because I took away their main plank," he said.

"For their main plank was that they wouldn't recognise the British government. Now, they're in part of the British government."

Since the power sharing agreement in 2007, the relationship between Mr Paisley and Mr McGuinness had seemed to warm to such an extent that the pair had been nicknamed the "chuckle brothers".

But Mr Paisley said there still were "big differences" between him and his deputy first minister.

"I'm a unionist, he's a republican," he said. "That's a fact of life but because of the so-called democratic system we have here, we both have to work together."

When pressed if he liked Mr McGuinness as a man, he said: "My father used to say you have to work with the timber that's sent even though there's many knots in it."

'Farce'

But despite their "very good" working relationship, Mr Paisley said he will never shake hands with the deputy first minister.

"I made it clear to him that handshaking was a bit of a farce in this country," he said.

When you look back at what we have achieved and what we're doing, I think you have to give us full marks
Ian Paisley

"I've seen all the leaders shaking hands. And then going out to drive a bayonet into the back of the person they've shaken hands with. He knows I'll not be shaking hands with him and that's it."

Mr Paisley said they deserved "full marks" for their achievements.

"I think that when you look back at what we have achieved and what we're doing, I think you have to give us full marks," he said.

"I don't think that the present agreement has to do with the personalities of the leaders.

"I think it's to do with the fact that this is the only way we can go. And if we don't go this way others will take it out of our hands and they'll go whatever way they want."


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