Wednesday 24 May 2017

Martin McGuinness on Ian Paisley passing: 'Chuckle brothers' nickname sent positive image

Northern Ireland Deputy First Minster Martin McGuinness has expressed his sadness at the death of Ian Paisley (88).

The former firebrand preacher turned political peacemaker made a courageous political leap in 2006 by committing the DUP to entering into government with Sinn Fein and in 2007 became First Minister, with former IRA man Martin McGuinness as his deputy.

In a statement released today, Martin McGuinness said: "I learned with deep regret and sadness of the death of former First Minister the Rev. Dr. Ian Paisley.

"Over a number of decades we were political opponents and held very different views on many, many issues but the one thing we were absolutely united on was the principle that our people were better able to govern themselves than any British government.

"I want to pay tribute to and comment on the work he did in the latter days of his political life in building agreement and leading unionism into a new accommodation with republicans and nationalists.

"In the brief period that we worked together in the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister I developed a close working relationship with him which developed into a friendship, which despite our many differences lasted beyond his term in office.

"I want to send my sincere sympathy to his wife, Eileen, his children and extended family."

He was elected to Westminster in 1970 as the Protestant Unionist MP for North Antrim. A year later he founded the Democratic Unionist Party which he led until 2008. In 1979 he was elected to the European Parliament where his views on the Catholic Church caused controversy - most notably when he denounced Pope John Paul II as the "anti-Christ" during a visit to the parliament in 1988.

He played a key role in orchestrating the Ulster Workers' Council Strike which brought Northern Ireland to a standstill in 1973 and was vehemently opposed to the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement and accused the British prime minister Margaret Thatcher of a betrayal of unionists after she signed the deal which gave the Irish government an advisory role in Northern Ireland.

Even though he was also opposed to the 1998 Good Friday peace accord which eventually ended the Troubles, Mr Paisley ended up sharing power with Sinn Fein when he and his bitter rival Martin McGuinness became First and Deputy First Ministers in 2007.

McGuinness said the term ‘Chuckle Brothers’ – which was applied to both himself and Paisley when they were in government together – did not bother them.

“Well that was a phrase coined I think by Danny Kennedy of the Ulster Unionists.

“I think it was done in a way that was to demean both of us but I think it backfired.

“I think people liked it.

“They saw the imagery of Ian and myself quite comfortable together going different functions and different events.

“And I think it sent a very positive message.

“In fact I think it confounded people that two people that were diametrically opposed political backgrounds could actually not just work together but have a friendship.”

McGuinness told the RTE programme that some of his fondest memories of Paisley were from the winter of 2007, when both travelled to the US to attract key foreign investment to Northern Ireland.

The pair met with then US President George Bush in the Oval Office.

The meeting was supposed to last just 15 minutes, but went for more than an hour as the three men discussed various issues, which each of them enjoying the encounter.

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