Northern Ireland’s Ian Paisley to resign and retire

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The First Minister of Northern Ireland and leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, Ian Paisley, 81, has announced he is resigning the positions of First Minister and DUP leader after what some believe is internal pressure from within the party. He originally announced he would govern for his full term till 2011.

Paisley plans to step down after an investment conference in May organized by the power-sharing Northern Ireland Executive.

Paisley told reporters, “I could go on and on but I’ve decided to go, I came to this decision a few weeks ago when I was thinking very much about the conference and what was going to come after the conference, I thought that it is a marker, a very big marker, and it would be a very appropriate time for me to bow out.” Paisley noted he is not fully retiring as he will remain on the back benches at Stormont, the location of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Paisley has been a controversial, divisive figure in Northern Ireland politics throughout his five decades of involvement. Until his acceptance of the First Minister position with political rival and enemy and Sinn Fein‘s Martin McGuinness, a former IRA commander, Paisley was nicknamed Dr. No for his refusal to grant any concessions to the Irish nationalists or republicans and his working with McGuinness would have been unheard of ten years ago.

I could go on and on but I’ve decided to go.

His announcement is believed to be in part because of this relationship with McGuinness, the two political rivals were photographed together enjoying a laugh, earning them the nickname, the “Chuckle Brothers.”

Hard-line factions within the DUP are not happy with Paisley sharing power with Sinn Fein, which they see as inextricably linked to the Provisional Irish Republican Army. Paisley used to refer to the party in political discourse as “Sinn Fein/IRA.”

Paisley is known for fundamentalist anti-Catholic views and stances and helped to form the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster in 1951 as part of a disagreement between a local church in Crossgar, County Down and the elders of the county church governance. Paisley was forced to retire in January due to his political role as First Minister and possibly, his power-sharing with Sinn Fein.

The announcement comes one month before the tenth anniversary of Good Friday Agreement which ended the thirty year-long period of conflict know as the “The Troubles” in which violence occurred between the nationalist and republican and the unionist and loyalist communities of Northern Ireland in the form of bombings, assassinations and gang violence.

It also comes a month after Ian Paisley’s son, Ian Paisley Jr resigned after accusations and criticism over links with property developer, Seymour Sweeney and controversy over lobbying. Paisley Junior noted today that he was transferring of the ownership of the firm which runs his constituency office in Ballymena to a representative of a north Antrim DUP branch.

Peter Robinson, the deputy leader and Northern Ireland Finance Minister is the likely choice to succeed Paisley, but some sources with in the party would not discount Northern Ireland Finance Minister Nigel Dodds either.

Paisley’s reaction to choosing his succesor was, “This is not the Church of Rome. This is not Apostolic succession and I have no right to say who will succeed me.”

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