Ian Paisley speaks up in support of reunited Ireland

Ian Paisley, the veteran former leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, broke with convention in the House of Lords yesterday and declared his support for the reunification of the island of Ireland under the Crown.

Dr Paisley, in his first speech since joining the Lords in July, controversially cited a letter in in an Irish newspaper in which the writer "invited Her Majesty to come over and take the whole of Ireland under her control".

The newly ennobled Lord Bannside went on: "I am not going to throw such a bomb as that into the House today. But it's a very good thought and, if we all came together with Her Majesty at our head, I think we would do very well."

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And, in a thinly veiled reference to the Protestant King William III's victory over the Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, he added: "Another king did that at a certain famous watering place that I will not mention here today."

He was speaking in a Lords debate, opened by Lib Dem Lord Maclennan of Rogart, on the role of active citizenship in society. It is customary in the Lords for maiden speeches to steer clear of controversy.

Flanked by his wife, Baroness Paisley of St George's, the former Moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster quipped that Lady Paisley had been sent, like John the Baptist, before him.

Lord Bannside, 84, told peers: "I am a great believer in being active and - hold on to your seats - I am not going to be too active today because there are other things in mind."

And, recalling his Commons maiden speech 40 years ago, he added: "I have no intention of sitting in this place for 40 years!" But he promised to become a "really active citizen" in Heaven.

Lord Bannside, the former Ulster first minister, noted that rights were easy to list and were enshrined in law, but responsibilities were not so well defined.

"This generation needs to have a study of not only citizenship but to be able to make that study practical and applicable to the places where they live," he said.