THE most dominant figure in Northern Ireland’s turbulent political scene left Stormont for the last time last Wednesday ending 41 years in elected politics.
Yet it was with little fanfare that the political colossus, who trod the road from protest to the highest office in the land, left the building out of a side door at 11.30am following his final speech to the assembly.
In the 1970s, the Rev Ian Paisley was forcibly evicted from the same building, and again in the 1980s.
In the 1990s, during the Good Friday Agreement negotiations, he was locked out of Stormont.
Yet by 2007 he held the keys as the province’s first minister.
Demonstrating the transformation, the former DUP leader’s old nemesis turned friend — Sinn Fein man Martin McGuinness — gave a glowing and even emotional tribute to him in the assembly chamber before the remaining parties took their turn.
Current first minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson said the political institutions would not be there if it had not been for the work of Lord Bannside and said his long time colleague will be “greatly missed”.
Lord Bannside rose to speak starting with a joke: “It is 41 years since I entered this place as an elected member in 1970.
“Now I know that I only look like 41, but facts are facts and it is indeed that many years ago.”
He showed that his powerful speech has lost none of its potency as he told the chamber “in my time I have faced several prime ministers, a host of secretaries of state, a number of Taoiseachs and even a few American presidents”.
Dr Paisley added: “My message to them all was the same: Ulster would only have stable government if all parties irrespective of our differences, signed up to supporting the rule of law, the institutions of the state and the police.”
Lord Bannside went on to blast “Job’s comforters and the moaners and the complainers and the pessimists and the prophets of doom with their faces as long as Lurgan spades”.
He commended the completion of the first full term of the assembly since 1972 and said he believes the future is bright for Stormont, concluding: “It is not how you start but how you finish that tells the tale. And I most certainly believe the end is not yet and the best is still to be.”
The former First Minister of Northern Ireland has stepped down from elected politics at the grand old age of 84. Now known as Lord Bannside, he will concentrate on his work in the House of Lords. He is also writing a book.
For a man in his ninth decade who had recently had a pacemaker fitted, he still looked spritely on his feet. His voice lacked the boom it once had, and the belligerent tone which used to be his trademark is long gone, but he still eats, sleeps and breathes politics.