HIS was a journey from defiance to compromise, plotting a course through the heart of British political life for over half a century.
Tributes have poured in for Dr Ian Paisley, the firebrand preacher whose role as a peacemaker in Northern Island represented one of the most unlikely reinventions of any figure in modern public life.
The polarising politician died after a long illness, his widow, Baroness Eileen Paisley, confirmed. He was 88.
In a demonstration of how Dr Paisley’s outlook had shifted over the years, one of his long-time sworn enemies turned partner in government was among the first to acknowledge his work.
Martin McGuinness, who once commanded the IRA in his native Londonderry and faced implacable opposition from Dr Paisley, said it was with “deep regret and sadness” he learned of the death of the former leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
Dr Paisley served as First Minister with Mr McGuinness as his deputy after agreeing to share power with Sinn Feinn at Stormont in 2007, a decision that ushered in a new era for the country.
Despite his legacy, many will remember him as the man who always said ‘Never’ and was long characterised as Dr No in the years before he became Dr Yes.
“In the brief period that we worked together in the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister I developed a close working relationship with him which developed into a friendship, which despite our many differences lasted beyond his term in office,” said Mr McGuinness, who together with Dr Paisley became known as the “chuckle brothers.”
“Over a number of decades we were political opponents and held very different views on many, many issues but the one thing we were absolutely united on was the principle that our people were better able to govern themselves than any British government.”
Dr Paisley’s wife, a fellow member of the House of Lords, said her family had been left heartbroken by their loss.
“Although ours is the grand hope of reunion, naturally as a family we are heartbroken,” she said in a statement. “We loved him and he adores us, and our earthly lives are forever changed.”
First Minister Alex Salmond was among numerous other politicians to acknowledge the work done by Dr Paisley, a man he first got to know at Westminster as a “warm, personable fellow MP.”
Mr Salmond said: “His long political journey to become Northern Ireland’s First Minister, ultimately sitting down with his long-tome opponents and playing a critical role in promoting reconciliation across communities, is well documented and will leave a precious and enduring legacy.
“His passing will b mourned across Northern Ireland, as it will be in Scotland and further afield. I send my condolences to his wife Eileen and to his wider family and friends.”
Key Westminster figures also paid tribute to Dr Paisley, saluting his work in guiding Northern Ireland to a more peaceful future.
Prime Minister David Cameron said that while he was a “controversial figure” for large parts of his career, “the contribution he made in his later years to political stability in Northern Ireland was huge.”
He said: “In particular, his decision to take his party in government with Sinn Fein in 2007 required great courage and leadership, for which everyone in these islands should be grateful.”
Former Labour PM Tony Blair, who presided over the restoration of devolved government in Northern Ireland via the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, said although he was a man of “deep convictions” which “never changed,” he had an appreciation of the “possibilities of peace.”
“He began as the militant,” Mr Blair added. “He ended as the peacemaker.”
Michael Higgins, the president of Ireland, said: “Irrespective of ones political perspective, Dr Paisley was undoubtedly a man of immense influence on the contemporary history of this island.”
Dr Paisley’s funeral will be private and attended only by his immediate family, but/ there are plans for a public memorial service later this year.