The MP son of Ian Paisley has paid a glowing tribute to Martin McGuinness and urged the current DUP leadership to follow the example set by the Sinn Fein veteran and his father.
Ian Paisley Jnr said he wanted to offer “humble and honest” thanks to Mr McGuinness after he announced his decision to quit frontline politics, praising the former IRA commander for “saving lives” during his personal journey to peace.
It was a remarkably warm tribute, which contrasted markedly from the more qualified reaction from current DUP leader Arlene Foster.
Mr Paisley suggested the current generation of Stormont leaders needed to learn the lessons of the fledgling days of now crisis-hit Sinn Fein/DUP coalition.
In remarks that will be interpreted by some as a pointed challenge to his party leader Mrs Foster, Mr Paisley said his status as a unionist or protestant should not mean he had to qualify a tribute to a republican figurehead.
He said people who adopted that mindset needed to “get over it”.
Mr Paisley denied he was making a coded pitch for the DUP leadership.
Wishing Mr McGuinness a happy retirement, he told BBC Northern Ireland’s The View: “I am going to say thank you and I think it is important that we actually do reflect on the fact that we would not be where we are in Northern Ireland in terms of having stability, peace and the opportunity to rebuild our country if it hadn’t been for the work he did put in, especially with my father at the beginning of this long journey.
“I am going to acknowledge the fact that perhaps if we got back to some of that foundation work of building a proper relationship and recognising what partnership actually means then we can get out of the mess we are currently in.”
Mr McGuinness stepped away from the political stage, citing his health problems, shortly after a bitter rift between the DUP and Sinn Fein triggered the collapse of the powersharing executive in Belfast.
While a green energy scheme financial scandal precipitated the meltdown, Mr McGuinness has also accused Mrs Foster and other DUP members of showing disrespect to the Irish culture and failing to reciprocate republican gestures of reconciliation.
Asked if Mrs Foster and the DUP leadership had got it wrong, North Antrim MP Mr Paisley said: “If people do not learn lessons from what we do politically we are destined to repeat mistakes.
“Lessons better be learned at the present time, so that mistakes that have been made are not repeated.”
Mr Paisley said it would have been easy to adopt a hardline unionist approach to Mr McGuinness’s decision to quit.
“It would be very easy to beat the drum ... dead easy to say ‘great stuff, another one is off the scene, we’ll deal with the next one’.
“Does that really help? It doesn’t help out there. It won’t put our country back together again.
“We actually have responsibilities as political leaders to put this back together again and the sooner more of us are honest about this the better.”