Bertie Ahern says Ian Paisley was ‘a big man with a big heart’

Former taoiseach recalls former leader’s warmth and sincerity

Ian Paisley and Bertie Ahern meeting at the British irish Council Summit in 2008, flanked by (from left) Gerry Kelly, Ian Paisley Jr, Eamon O’Cuiv and Martin McGuinness. Photograph: Eamonn Farrell/Photocall Ireland.

Ian Paisley and Bertie Ahern meeting at the British irish Council Summit in 2008, flanked by (from left) Gerry Kelly, Ian Paisley Jr, Eamon O’Cuiv and Martin McGuinness. Photograph: Eamonn Farrell/Photocall Ireland.

 

Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern described Dr Paisley yesterday as “a big man with a big heart” whom he regarded as a good friend.

Mr Ahern said he was very sad to hear of Dr Paisley’s death and extended his sympathies to his wife Eileen, and his five children – “especially his son, Ian Jr, who I know well”.

Mr Ahern said he worked closely with the former DUP leader on the peace process. “We both came from very different political traditions, but the more I got to know Ian Paisley, the more I respected him and the more I came to like him. In my dealings with him I found him to be unfailingly polite and a man of his word.

“I will never forget his warmth and his sincerity that day he first shook my hand in Farmleigh on a glorious spring day in 2007. He had a warm personality, he was witty, he had a keen sense of humour and a booming laugh. This helped to build relationships from the start.

“I remember at our first-ever meeting, which was a breakfast summit in the Irish Embassy in London. He ordered a hardboiled egg. He then proceeded to tell me, with a twinkle in his eye, that this was to be sure I couldn’t poison him! It was his way of breaking down barriers.”

President Michael D Higgins and Taoiseach Enda Kenny also paid tribute to Dr Paisley.

The former DUP leader was a man of “deep convictions” whose early career was characterised by an “uncompromising position of a constitutional kind”, according to Mr Higgins. “However, his embracing of the change necessary to achieve a discourse that might lead to peace was of immense significance, as was his commitment to building relationships in support of that peace.”

Mr Kenny said Dr Paisley’s “greatest legacy will be one of peace”. History would come to a fuller judgment of the long career of a man who was “by any measure a major figure in the history of these islands. And, while he was, of course, a divisive figure, his greatest legacy will be one of peace.”