FOR most, it was a normal day at Dundonald’s Ulster Hospital and few suspected that the former moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church and ex-Northern Ireland First Minister Ian Paisley was in residence.
A small group of journalists and photographers stationed at the front entrance to the hospital were the only indicator that a high profile patient was being treated in the intensive care unit (ICU).
His family, including wife Baroness Eileen Paisley and son Ian Paisley Junior, gathered at his bedside in the ICU, having earlier requested that their “privacy be respected at this difficult time”.
Although news on the condition of Lord Bannside was not forthcoming, reporters waited for any snippet of information on Dr Paisley, known for his impassioned preaching and hardline unionist politics. He has been a firm fixture in both local and national media since the beginning of his political career in the 1960s.
The severity of the former MP, MEP, MLA and life peer’s illness was unclear but concerns for his health have been growing since 2005 when he appeared in public looking gaunt and frail.
In 2011, Dr Paisley was rushed to hospital in London after taking ill in Westminster and needed an operation to have a pacemaker fitted. Given this medical history, it was suggested that he may be suffering from further heart problems.
While patients in the hospital may not have been aware of Dr Paisley’s presence, it was clear word had spread further afield. DUP assembly members were briefed on their ex-leader’s medical condition at Stormont and people took to the internet to wish Dr Paisley a speedy recovery.
Although the Free Presbyterian minister and politician often divided opinion, well-wishers from both communities have posted on social networking site Twitter.
The health of Dr Paisley was also the main topic of conversation in Stormont yesterday morning. As well as general concern, the MLAs at the DUP group meeting were asked to pray for their former leader.
Members of the other parties were also inquiring from their DUP counterparts how the former first minister was progressing.