Born April 6, 1926, Armagh, County Armagh, Northern Ireland
Full name: Ian Richard Kyle Paisley militant Protestant leader in the sectarian conflict that divided Northern Ireland from the 1960s, and a member of the British Parliament (from North Antrim) since 1970 and the European Parliament since 1979.
The son of a Baptist minister, Paisley was ordained by his father in 1946. He
co-founded and became moderator of his own church, the Free Presbyterian Church, in 1951. In 1969 he founded the Martyrs Memorial Free Presbyterian Church in Belfast, Northern Ireland. From 1961 to 1991 membership in his churches increased 10-fold, though the 1991 census indicated that they attracted less than 1 percent of Northern Ireland's population. Paisley's strength lay in his ability to combine the language of biblical certainty with that of politics at a time when many Protestants were uncertain about their constitutional identity and fearful of their physical security. His ideological message combined militant anti-Catholicism with militant Unionism.
From the 1960s Paisley strove to become the leader of extreme Protestant opinion in Northern Ireland by organizing street protests and rallies. These activities led to frequent confrontations with the authorities and a brief prison term for unlawful assembly in 1966. That year he established the Ulster Constitution Defence Committee and the Ulster Protestant Volunteers, which served as paramilitary adjuncts to his churches.
In 1970 Paisley was elected to the parliaments of Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom. In 1971, in an attempt to broaden his electoral base, he led a split in the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP),
co-founding the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
Throughout the 1970s and '80s he tried to turn the DUP into the largest Unionist party, but with the exception of one local council election in 1981, it always finished second, behind the UUP. Although his personal following was never in doubt (in elections to the European Parliament in 1999 he received more votes than any other candidate in Northern Ireland), his popularity showed some signs of waning after 1994.
Paisley's career was one of consistent protest against the Roman Catholic church and ecumenism, against British concessions to the Irish government and Irish Nationalists, and against members of the Ulster Unionist establishment, whom he criticized for their upper-class backgrounds and their perceived willingness to compromise the interests of Northern Ireland's Protestant community (he demanded the resignation of each UUP leader from Terence O'Neill in 1966 to David Trimble in 1997). His methods also have been consistent: a combination of parliamentary opposition and
extra-parliamentary street protest. He has been identified with shadowy private armies such as the
Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), the Third Force, and the Ulster Resistance.
Despite his considerable oratorical skills, his huge personal following, his vibrant churches, and a well-organized political party, Paisley has failed to impede attempts at a negotiated settlement of the conflict in Northern Ireland, a process that he maintains is driving the province in the direction of Irish unity and away from the United Kingdom. In April 1998 eight political parties signed the Good Friday Agreement on steps leading to a new power-sharing government in Northern Ireland. Although Paisley had earlier refused to participate in multiparty talks that included
Sinn Féin (SF), the political wing of the Irish Republican Army
(IRA), and campaigned against the accord in a popular referendum held in May 1998, he ran for election the following month and won a seat in the new Northern Ireland Assembly.