Few MEPs as controversial as Ian Paisley

 

The European Parliament has more than its share of eccentrics but few MEPs have been as colourful or controversial as the Rev Ian Paisley, who topped the poll in Northern Ireland in all five elections since 1979.

Dr Paisley became the first directly elected MEP to speak in the House when he complained that the British flag was hanging upside down.

The DUP leader interrupted a speech to the parliament by the late Jack Lynch in protest at the government's failure to sign the European Convention on Terrorism.

His most dramatic intervention came in 1988, however, when he was physically removed from the chamber after heckling Pope John Paul II.

When the Pope started to speak, Dr Paisley held up a red sign painted in black letters with the words "John Paul II Antichrist", and shouted a quotation from the 16th century Protestant martyr Archbishop Cranmer: "I refuse you as Christ's enemy and Antichrist with all your false doctrine."

German MEP Dr Otto von Hapsburg wrenched the banner from Dr Paisley before ushers hauled the DUP leader from the chamber. Dr Paisley said later he could not have caused a greater commotion if he had detonated explosives in the parliament, and claimed that Europe had not changed since the Reformation.

For much of his time as an MEP, Dr Paisley was an active member of the Agriculture and Fisheries Committee. He worked closely with the UUP's Mr Jim Nicholson and the SDLP's Mr John Hume to secure EU funds for deprived Border areas.

Dr Paisley has been less prominent in recent years, although he serves on the Committee on Development and Co-operation and the Delegation to the EU-Estonia Joint Parliamentary Committee.

His most recent intervention came during last week's debate launching Ireland's EU presidency when he welcomed the Taoiseach to the European Parliament, adding that the presidency meant that Mr Ahern would have less time to focus on Northern Ireland.