Ian Paisley, Northern Ireland’s firebrand Protestant leader who late in life struck a power-sharing deal with bitter Catholic rivals, has died in Belfast. He was 88.
The death, after years of failing health, was announced Friday in a family statement.
Paisley, a cleric known for decades of blistering anti-Catholic rhetoric, stunned political observers in 2007, joining a power-sharing government with Sinn Fein leader Martin McGuinness.
At the height of the three-decade Northern Ireland conflict, known as “The Troubles,” Paisley founded his own church and Democratic Unionist Party to promote his strident views. For more than two decades he held a seat in the European Parliament, and there in 1988, publicly denounced Pope John Paul as the “anti-Christ” as the pontiff addressed lawmakers.
Friday, Sinn Fein’s McGuinness, an ex-commander in the largely-Catholic Irish Republican Army, voiced sorrow at Paisley’s death.
Speaking to Irish media, he said he eventually established a close working relationship with Paisley after peace took hold, and he said the relationship developed into friendship during the minister’s later years.
Northern Irish First Minister Peter Robinson, who in 2004 succeeded Paisley as head of the Democratic Unionist Party, on Friday called Paisley a “colossus in unionism.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron described Paisley as a controversial figure for much of his career. But he also noted Paisley’s contribution to political stability in Northern Ireland, calling his role “huge.”