Ian Paisley: He had a big heart – Bertie Ahern

Bertie Ahern said he grew to be friends with Ian Paisley
Bertie Ahern said he grew to be friends with Ian Paisley

Ian Paisley’s one-time political adversaries in the Irish Republic painted a glowing picture of a pragmatic and courageous unionist leader following his death.

Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny said Dr Paisley was by any measure a major figure in the history of Ireland and Britain.

“I had the pleasure of meeting and talking to him in recent years, and I know that he treasured the peace and friendship that he had lived to see, and helped to build, between our traditions,” Mr Kenny said.

“His devotion to his faith and to the unionist people of Northern Ireland was deep and unshakeable.

“In time, history will come to a fuller judgment of his long career. And, while he was of course a divisive figure, his greatest legacy will be one of peace.”

Mr Kenny said thoughts and sympathies should be with the many thousands of people devoted to Dr Paisley.

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern shook hands with Mr Paisley for the first time in public in Farmleigh, Dublin only seven years ago.

The pair grew to be friends with Mr Ahern describing him as unfailingly polite and a man of his word.

“Ian was a big man. He had a big heart,” Mr Ahern said.

“In my younger days I found him a very difficult character but we ended up very good friends. He was a valuable character in the peace process.”

Mr Ahern said Mr Paisley’s decision to go into power, specifically with Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister and former IRA commander Martin McGuinness, saw him pay a big price politically and personally as he neared retirement.

Mr Ahern said that as a result he lost friendships which had been built over the previous 40 or 50 years.

“I grew to admire him. The more I got to know him, the more I grew to like him,” he told RTE Radio.

Charlie Flanagan, Ireland’s Foreign Affairs Minister, described him as a man of strong principles, a deep religious conviction and the voice of many people from his tradition.

“He was admired by many for his resolute spirit and his strength of purpose,” the minister said.

“These qualities were very much to the fore when he did what was once unimaginable and, together with Martin McGuinness, brought nationalist and unionist parties together.”

Micheal Martin, leader of Fianna Fail, the main opposition party in the Irish Republic, said Mr Paisley’s life encapsulates the peace process.

“Over time, Dr Paisley recognised the benefits and future opportunities peace was bringing to Northern Ireland,” Mr Martin said.