Ian Paisley, the Protestant leader who for decades led the often violent effort to keep Northern Ireland a part of Great Britain, before heading up a power-sharing regional government with Catholic opponents in 2007 that stemmed from 1998's Good Friday agreement, has died at the age of 88.
From the 1950s, when he organized vigilante patrols to defend Protestant neighborhoods against I.R.A. attacks, through decades of strife — bombings, assassinations, clashes with British troops and general strikes and riots he had fomented — Mr. Paisley had barnstormed the province, condemning any deal that might have opened the way to peace or power-sharing with the Catholics, who made up 44 percent of Northern Ireland's nearly 1.8 million people.
In a pulpit or at Stormont — the Northern Ireland Parliament that had been emblematic of Protestant hegemony since the partition of Ireland in 1921 — Mr. Paisley was a spellbinding orator, a thundering Jeremiah of relentless political attacks laced with biblical references. The Catholic Church, Sinn Fein, the I.R.A., Irish leaders, even interfering American presidents, were all targets of the Paisley wrath.
He once called Pope John Paul II the Antichrist. He said he wanted to kick Bill Clinton in the pants for his peace efforts. He refused to attend negotiations and accused some British leaders of plotting to sell Belfast out to what he called the devils in Dublin. His demands for the removal of an Irish flag from Sinn Fein's Belfast office once led to two days of rioting. And he said "no" to almost everything — to civil rights for Catholics, to meetings with Irish leaders, and especially to power-sharing proposals. [The New York Times]
In a statement, British Prime Minister David Cameron said, "[H]is decision to take his party into government with Sinn Féin in 2007 required great courage and leadership, for which everyone in these islands should be grateful."
"Ian Paisley will be remembered by many as the 'Big Man' of Northern Ireland politics," he added. "He will be greatly missed."