In the 1960s he took to the streets to denounce the nationalist civil rights movement as anti-British, anti-Protestant and an IRA front.
But Rev Ian Paisley appears to have mellowed in his autumn years – causing amazement by conceding that many of the mainly Catholic movement’s complaints were justified.
During more than 40 hours of interviews to be broadcast by the BBC, the 87-year-old agreed that the then unionist government was unfair and unjust in refusing to grant the central civil rights demand of one man-one vote.
“The whole system was wrong,” he declared in his interviews. “It wasn’t one man-one vote. A fair government is that every man has the same power to vote for what he wants.”
The former firebrand said that the political system in Northern Ireland in the 1960s “was not acceptable, not acceptable at all”.
Dr Paisley added: “Those that put their hands to that have to carry some of the blunt and blame for what has happened in our country.
“If you vote down democracy you’re responsible for bringing in anarchy. And they brought in anarchy and they set family against family and friend against friend. It was bad for everybody.”
He insisted however that none of this justified the violence of the Troubles, emphasising: “I don’t believe in killing and never have.”
His remarks came in a series of interviews conducted by veteran Belfast broadcaster Eamonn Mallie, in which the 87-year-old political and religious leader looked back on his 60-year career. The first of two BBC television programmes is to air on Monday night.
In comments that could be seen as callous, Dr Paisley also described a republican bomb attack which almost killed prime minister John Major and cabinet ministers in 1991 as “a cracker for the IRA”.
He also said that he had been angered by the events of Bloody Sunday in Londonderry, when paratroopers in 1972 had shot civilians who he said were protesting within the law.
He had been further angered by attempts at a cover-up, and was glad to hear David Cameron eventually “telling the truth”.
In recent years Dr Paisley has stepped down from the post of Northern Ireland’s first minister and from the leadership of the Free Presbyterian church which he headed for decades.
He is currently in hospital for health tests, and in February 2012 spent a week on a life support machine suffering from heart failure. However, in the lengthy interviews he shows no sign of any mental deterioration.
Although Dr Paisley has moderated his views on some issues, he did not deviate from his strongly fundamentalist attitudes. Mallie put it to him that he had once accused the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret, who had an audience with the Pope, of “committing spiritual fornication with the Antichrist”.
Mr Paisley responded: “That was the language of Luther and Calvin and Protestantism, and I have no apology to make for being a Protestant.”
He stuck to his statement that he was anti-Catholic but “I love the poor dupes who are ground down under that system.”
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