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Wednesday, 28 March, 2001, 16:38 GMT
Ian Paisley: DUP leader

By BBC Northern Ireland political editor Stephen Grimason

In any survey about Ian Paisley, the one column left blank would be headed: Don't know.

People in Northern Ireland either love him or hate him.

There is no public ambivalence about the Democratic Unionist Party leader and Moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church.

His physical presence and commanding voice are ever-present and at the age of 74 he says he has no intention of retiring

Stephen Grimason
He has been a colussus on the political stage in the Province since his first interventions in the mid-1960s.

Among these was the protest he organised about the lowering of the Union Flag at Belfast City Hall as a mark of respect over the death of the Pope.

His physical presence and commanding voice are ever-present and, at the age of 74, he says he has no intention of retiring.

His mixture of politics and religion have inspired loyalty from his supporters and loathing from his detractors and the politics has always been secondary to the faith.

Christian fundamentalist

This son of a baptist minister gave his first sermon when just 16.

He spent the next 20 years working within religious life before becoming involved in politics, setting up the Free Presbyterian Church in 1951 along the way.

He has forged links with Christian fundamentalists across the world, particularly in the Bible Belt of the United States, where he has a close friend in republican Senator Jesse Helms.

Dr Paisley has accused David Trimble of betraying unionists

Ian Paisley has stood in the way of every political initiative in Northern Ireland for the past 30 years.

He has railed against what he considers to be the evils of Irish nationalism and republicanism throughout that period but has also fought a long-running feud with the Ulster Unionist Party.

Every UUP leader in the last three decades has been described by Dr Paisley as either a traitor or a Judas determined to sell Northern Ireland into a united Ireland.

He is currently locked in a gladiatorial battle with David Trimble.

The religious certitude he brings to politics is attractive to many unionists.

Akin to death

In every European election he routinely tops the poll and on that basis describes himself as the most popular politician in the country.

Catholics in Northern Ireland regard him as a bigot

Stephen Grimason

He is said to be the unionist "insurance vote".

A united Ireland would be regarded by many unionists as akin to death.

A close Paisley confidant said: "Well, people don't expect to die tomorrow but they do take out insurance, don't they?"

The DUP leader has always condemned violence, republican and loyalist, but has been criticised for his own involvement with shadowy groups.

In 1981, he appeared on a hillside at dead of night with 500 men brandishing firearms licenses and later had a brief dalliance with Ulster Resistance, which also had more than a whiff of paramilitary sulphur about it.

Catholics in Northern Ireland regard him as a bigot.


Dr Paisley insists that while he is opposed to the Roman Catholic Church and all its works he has nothing against individual Catholics.

Ian Paisley
Ian Paisley describes himself as the most popular politician in NI
This distinction is, however, often lost on some of his supporters.

In recent years he has denied reports of ill health and insists he will continue as leader of both the DUP and the Free Presbyterian Church until, as he put it, "I am carried out."

Elections invigorate him and Northern Ireland has averaged one a year for the past two and a half decades.

With his larger-than-life style, and a uncanny ability to either know or know someone who knows everyone he meets on the campaign trail, he is simply the best canvasser those of us to cover elections have ever seen.



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