So farewell then, Ian Paisley, a political curiosity of a bygone age, brought down by allegations about his son’s financial behaviour, rumours about his own expenses and the factor of his age – 81. Aside from the curiosity that he has managed to hold pretty much the complete set of elected political office – NI parliament, Westminster and Europe – he has proved a hugely divisive force of nature over his career.
Even in his dotage, his avuncular double act – nicknamed the Chuckle Brothers - with Martin McGuinness, a man previously categorised alongside the pope in the Anti-christ stakes for the good doctor, has divided his own party who can’t understand the reversal of his promise not to sit down with the IRA. Before that, he has divided unionism and has been the best recruiting sergeant that the IRA could ever have, with his fire and brimstone evocation of an earlier age of unionism. Many have wondered why the republicans never seriously targeted this high-profile representative of unionist politics, but there has been a curious symbiotic relationship between the two. He needs their bloody, murderous criminality to justify his anger, while they need his rabid anti-Catholicism and intransigence to fuel their campaigns. Not for nothing has it been said that if McGuinness and Adams heard that Paisley had a cold, they’d send him a carton of Beechams and a get well soon card.
In fairness, people on the ground tell me that he has a fine record of assisting the Catholic constituents who come to his surgeries and without his conversion to the cause of devolved government, power would still sit with the Secretary of State. I only hope that his successor does not seek to move from the rocky and precarious path of peace, but keeps the country moving forwards as it has done in recent years.