DUBLIN (Reuters) - Protestant preacher Ian Paisley, a towering figure on Northern Ireland’s political scene for five decades, will step down as First Minister of the British province’s power-sharing government in May.
Following are comments on his departure:
“Ian Paisley has made a huge contribution to political life in Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom. The whole country values and admires the manner in which he has led as First Minister.
“His commitment and dedication to public service deserve our gratitude. Progress on bringing a lasting peace to Northern Ireland would not have been possible without his immense courage and leadership.”
“The announcement by Dr Ian Paisley that he will step down from the post of First Minister is a watershed in the history of Ireland. He is a giant figure in the history of these islands.
“In recent years, I have grown to know Dr. Paisley and have valued the practical and friendly working relationship that developed between us. I respect him as a man who worked tirelessly for the people he represents and who has sincerely done what he believed was right.
“I can say with certainty that the leadership he has shown in recent years means that future generations of Irish people, North and South, will live in a peace and prosperity that previous generations could only dream of.”
DAVID CAMERON, BRITAIN’S OPPOSITION CONSERVATIVE LEADER
“Ian Paisley has been a formidable figure in British politics for many decades. His term as First Minister of Northern Ireland has helped to forge a peace which many thought was impossible to achieve.
“Dr Paisley’s willingness to work closely with former opponents to build a new future for Northern Ireland has captured the world’s imagination and earned him the gratitude of the people of Northern Ireland.”
ENDA KENNY, LEADER OF IRELAND’S OPPOSITION FINE GAEL
“For much of his long political career Ian Paisley has been a colorful and controversial figure. However, it must be acknowledged that he is a politician of strong convictions who, once he had decided to share power with Sinn Fein, followed through fully on this commitment.
“His performance as First Minister, and the relationship based on mutual respect that he established with Martin McGuinness, have been pivotal to the success of the power-sharing structures since May.”
“Ian Paisley has been a central player in the process of huge and historic change in Northern Ireland. His pivotal role in bringing peace to Northern Ireland has ensured his place in history. It is now imperative that his successor continues the recent progress in the Northern Ireland Assembly.”
“The leadership of the DUP is a matter for that party and Sinn Fein will work with whoever is leader of the DUP.
“I want to commend the positive contribution Mr. Paisley has made in recent times. The agreement that he and I made last March cleared the way for the restoration of the political institutions.
“Whoever the new leader of the DUP is, they will be faced with significant challenges around issues like the transfer of power, the rights of Irish language speakers, a Bill of Rights and much more.”
MARK DURKAN, LEADER OF NORTHERN IRELAND’S SDLP PARTY
“Ian Paisley has been a larger than life figure in politics in Ireland. For too much of his career he was not a force for good and while he could be politically grievous he could be personally gracious.
“In the past few years he has at last embraced the necessity for power sharing, acknowledged the benefits of north-south cooperation and recognized the need to overcome past divisions.”
PETER ROBINSON, DEPUTY LEADER OF PAISLEY’S DUP PARTY
“When violent Republicans tried to destabilize and destroy our province and force us into a United Ireland, Dr. Paisley led the Unionist population in opposition to their objectives. No politician faced more vitriol than Ian Paisley, but he never allowed the bitterness he encountered to deflect him from serving the interests of the Unionist people.
“The DUP and indeed Northern Ireland will forever be indebted to Dr. Paisley for his contribution. He is truly a Unionist colossus and he can be justifiably proud that today Unionist politics and Northern Ireland’s position within the Union are stronger than at any point during his extraordinary career.”
“No one could ignore Ian Paisley’s forthright views and while not everyone agreed with him, his personal commitment was never in doubt.”
Reporting by Paul Hoskins