Ian Paisley, one of the most controversial figures in Northern Irish politics, has died at the age of 88.
Paisley’s political career lasted over 40 years. He led the Democratic Unionist Party for 37 of those years. He was known for his outspoken views on Northern Ireland politics, religion and morality.
A staunch opponent of the IRA, he eventually ended up leading a leading a power-sharing executive at the Northern Irish Parliament, Stormont. Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness became his deputy first minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly – demonstrating an ability to work alongside former enemies when the peace process demanded it.
In other areas – particularly religious matters – his views remained largely unchanged. Born in Armagh, he began preaching when just 16 and founded the Free Presbyterian Church when just 25. He infamously denounced the Pope as the ‘anti-Christ’, and was a vocal opponent of LGBTI rights.
In 1977, he launched the campaign, Save Ulster from Sodomy. Although homosexual activity had been decriminalized in England and Wales in 1967, it remained illegal in Northern Ireland.
The Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform (Northern Ireland) had launched in 1974 and Paisley’s campaign was a reaction to this and an attempt to keep gay sex criminalized. However he failed and the ban of homosexual activity was finally lifted in 1982.
As recently as 2004, Paisley continued to cast an influence with his anti-gay views. Then Prime Minister Tony Blair postponed a House of Commons vote on the proposed Civil Partnership Bill as Paisley said that he and his fellow DUP MPs wished to vote against it but were involved in Northern Ireland peace process talks on the date in question.
Paisley is survived by his wife, Eileen, and five children.