IN a podcast series called ‘Human Nature’, available to listen to on, journalist Rodney Edwards speaks to some of the best known people across Ireland north and south about life, love, emotion, grief and hears stories of struggle and accomplishment.


This week: Ian Paisley, a father, husband, son, brother and one of the the UK’s best known MPs.


RE: Tell me about childhood. What was childhood like for Ian Paisley, and what do you remember, what’s your earliest memories of growing up?


IP: A very very happy childhood. I mean I was the youngest of five, but I have a twin brother and my sister was about 13-14 months older than me, so we were almost like triplets. So, a very very happy childhood. Pastor’s house, but my earliest memories definitely are very happy. Also, I mean things like for example, my dad was in prison three or four years after I was born, so you know, I do remember that.


RE: Did that upset you seeing your father behind bars?


IP: I don’t think as a child you grasp that concept. My parents were so close and kind of so loving, provided us with such an environment that we felt secure, and I think if you feel secure as a child the upset if you like, is mitigated. I was sitting in the kitchen a few weeks ago at my mum and dad’s house and I was chatting to my mum over a wee cup of tea, and as I looked out the kitchen window… when we were growing up and you looked out that kitchen window, first of all it had one-way glass on it, secondly there was a police hut outside the window with sirens and two police officers sitting in it. And then there was barbed wire and all that stuff around it, all the security around it, and that stuff has all been taken away over recent years. I just said to mum, you look out there and you can see wee robins playing and the squirrels running up and down the trees, that’s so different to when we were kids and that that was all obscured. And yet, we just accepted it, that was normal, and I think kids have a great ability just to adapt to their circumstances and get on.


RE: Do you miss your dad? 


IP: Yes, very much so. Dad was…I can see the different cycles of relationship that I had with my dad, so there was father son you know, growing up and all of that, and then I started to work for him so it’s was kind of the employee and employer relationship as well. But then we became really good mates, which was a lovely relationship. So, dad was 40 years older than me, 39-40 years older than me, but we became, certainly for about the last 20 years of his life, really really close companions and mates and confidantes. We could share things… the first probably 10-12 years of married life dad would’ve rung me every night at midnight, which you know, I had to explain the Mrs that that’s my dad again he’s on the phone. But every night, even if I’d been out with my dad that day, he still rung me at midnight and had a good like banter for maybe 15-20 minutes just about what happened that day, what we should do the next day and plans. So, I had a really good friendly relationship with him and you do miss that you know, there’s things that I look back on saying oh I wish dad was here I could share that with him or tell him about that. But in another sense, I don’t miss… I don’t feel I’ve missed out on anything is probably a better way of saying it, in that we had such a full relationship that you know, that relationship was to it’s absolute extreme, and I think my brother and my sisters would say the same, dad gave everything to us. And so, it was a very you know, there’s no regrets there that anything was held back.

RE: Can you reflect on your last moments with your father, and what was that like for you?


IP: Yeah, dad had been growing weaker and was quite sick. Just he was growing old, and I’d come back from London and I actually decided I’ll stay in the house, because at this point dad was in a wee private room downstairs. And I actually was chatting to him that night and just holding his hand and stuff, and he would have wee conversations and then go over to sleep, but I just decided I would stay in the house that night. I remember I just slept on the floor of the room that he was in, and next morning said bye bye to him and he was fine, he was in good spirit and I went up the road to Ballymena to my advice centre. And I’ll never forget it, I got a call it was around about probably 10-10.15 in the morning, my sister Rhonda rang me and she said “Ian, dad’s definitely going here, he’s slipping away” and she put the phone and my mum was there, she put the phone to my dad and he said “bye bye son”. And I was actually, there was a guy in front of me at my desk seeking advice and I just said “look, I’m sorry mate, I have to go here, my father’s passing away”, and I think it was more of a shock to him, you know. And I just left the office immediately and I wouldn’t like to say, but I don’t know how I got to Belfast so quickly, but I got from Ballymena to Belfast into the house, into the manse where he was and he’d literally just passed away. 

But my mum and two of my sisters and my brother were there, then my other sister and myself who kind of arrived together, and our really good friend David McIlveen had just arrived, a really close family friend, and I just remember hugging David. He was Uncle David, he was just a mate, and went in and dad was there you know, but mum said it was the most peaceful moment like, he was never in pain, never any anguish and you know, to her if you could have a beautiful death, you know it was someone had just passed really really tranquilly and you know, I think that makes us happy. I mean, I lost my brother-in-law the year before dad died, and he had a terrible fight with cancer, and to see someone in their mid to late 50’s battling with cancer and being you know, the trouble and perplex that puts on the rest of the family, that was really harsh. But dad had a really full life, and he passed very very easily. And he lived six lives you know, he did more in one life than other people have done in you know, many people have done over several lives. So, you know, there was no regret there as such.


RE: When you talked also about the impact of witnessing some pretty horrific incidents, particularly around your father, you know having that and those experiences as a child must have an impact on your psychologically. Did it affect your mental health?


IP: I think this is the thing we now do, especially as men now start to talk about our mental health, you know 10 years ago Rodney you never talked about depression, you’re too strong to be depressed and all that. It must have had an impact you know, and in this day and age, either people have got softer or have got just more aware, which is probably a kinder way of the fact that all of these pressures take their toll. I tease my twin brother he’s got a shock of dark brown hair and mine’s light white hair now [laughter] I often say to him “did this have more of a toll on me than it did have on you?”

I think it’s how we get over these things, and I have very strong personal faith, and I do believe that if you cast your cares on your saviour that that does carry a lot of the burdens for you. That if you recognise, if you really truly believe, don’t fret for tomorrow, because there’s nothing that can be achieved by worry. And even though worry is a very natural place to go, I try to chastise myself if I start to worry about things, because in my life and the world that we’re in, you’re constantly under pressure or accusation or whatever, and if you worried about those things you wouldn’t get up in the morning, so you just try to set them to the side. I also think I have a way of dealing with criticism, in that most don’t people really know me for who and what I am, and they have a persona of me or an understanding of me of the media, which is a snapshot of me at particular times. And I tend to give everyone the benefit of the doubt  in that they don’t really know me, so if they’re saying stuff about me, they’re saying about this stereotype of this person called Ian Paisley, but they’re not really saying it about me.


RE: Well, the idea and the premise of this podcast is to look at different perspectives and see different views. When you reflect on that period of time, can you understand why the likes of Sinn Fein and the IRA had their views?


IP: Well listen, as a student of history and as a person who really tries to look into some of the things, I can understand why people have a different point of view, but I don’t believe that there was ever sufficient discrimination in Northern Ireland from either community that justified the firing of one single bullet. Was it justified the blowing up of one single shop, you know, it was never that atrocious that the only thing to do was to murder British soldiers and police offers or to blow up towns. And that’s the thing that really got me, I mean we can go to other zones of the world where’s there’s been conflict and the torture of people which led to people fighting back was very very different. That excuse doesn’t pertain to Ulster, and I think that that’s the sickening thing that you know, someone else says what was that all about, because there’s no justification for it.


RE: Tell me something you admired about Martin McGuinness. 


IP: I remember someone put the question to me, what is it about the former IRA terrorist Martin McGuinness that you actually like, and I said “the word former” [laughter] You know, the fact that… Martin McGuinness is a very personable person, and that’s the first thing, of all the people I’ve negotiated with or worked with in Government and in that organisation, he was very personable. We both walked away with clear understandings as to what you thought. The rest of them were, again probably that was down to the fact that he was very comfortable in terms of what he could deliver and his own sense of power.


RE: Was it strange then to have Martin McGuinness round at the house you know, because he was so friendly with your father and he developed that great relationship?


IP: I’ve said this before but I think it’s worth repeating Rodney, that Martin McGuinness was 15-20 years younger than my dad, my dad was in his 80’s when he became First Minister. And Martin McGuinness gave my father the respect he deserved as an older person, and that to me meant a heck of a lot more than all the other nonsense that goes on in politics, that you accord a person respect and dignity because of their age and their standing, and you don’t take advantage of that. My dad was pretty good at taking advantage of the fact that he was an older guy and he could you know, “I’m an old fella here”, and he’d use that to his advantage, but you know, at the same time there was respect and accordance given to the person’s place and standing. And I think that Martin McGuinness was able to do that, I think that led to a respectful relationship between the two of them and between us. I remember when my father ceased being First Minister and left the leadership of the party and of the church, it was interesting that people who you would have thought would have been in more regular contact didn’t stay in contact, and it’s understandable their busy, they’ve their own lives, but Martin McGuinness did make time to keep that contact. And to me that says a lot about the individual.


RE: Does that hurt you knowing that there’s certain people, possibly even in the DUP, who didn’t keep that contact, but Martin McGuinness could?


IP: Being very clear, none of this hurts me. I try, again it’s probably just part of my personality that I don’t carry hurt that other people try to inflict, but I set it aside and I’m very good at unpacking that and doing that. I think it hurts them, it hurts their standing, it hurts their reputation because you know, they were the people who lost out in terms of having that post-leadership relationship, which would have been very valuable to them, and helping even close the circle in their own lives. So, I think that you know, that they were the losers. I carry no loss, I have no hurt from that because I think I’m stronger than that.


RE: When did you last cry?


IP: I really wept, this sounds strange, I didn’t actually cry when my dad died, but before he was buried I was driving home from picking my daughter up, she was in the States, I picked her up from the airport and was driving home, and I was driving down this country road and unfortunately a little dog ran out in front of our car and I couldn’t swerve because I would’ve gone over the ditch, and I couldn’t swerve into the road because there was a massive tractor right beside me as the dog ran into the thing, and the dog had run out to bark at the tractor, and I went right over the top of the dog and just killed it outright. And I remember stopping the car, getting out and picking the wee dog up and it was just ruined, and I wept like a baby, wept like an absolute child over killing that wee dog on the road, and the owner came out and seen me and they knew me, they live about two miles from where I live, they were embarrassed the way I was just completely gone. But I think it was the emotion of everything else that had happened in the run-up, and that had given me actually a lot of physical tearful release. I don’t think I’ve actually wept since then.


RE: Is crying a sign of weakness?


IP: No, definitely not. I think it’s an emotion, it’s a positive emotion, and I am an emotional person, you know I’ll be emotional and recognise something that’s even twee or sad if I’m watching a film, and if you do feel emotion like that you should express it and understand it. And I think your emotions should be open, I think it makes you a warmer human being, but it’s definitely not a sign of weakness. In fact, the ability to be able to do it and talk about it openly I think is actually a sign of strength and helps others.


RE: What are your faults?


IP: There’s far too many in this to podcast to admit to or to go into [laughter]. But you know, I’m the first to admit that I’m sometimes too carefree, sometimes you know blasé about things when I should be different about things. I try to put myself in a place now where I do have much more self-awareness about people’s expectations of me and all the rest of it. It’s taken me over 50 years to get to that point, I’m slowly but surely trying to get there, and I think you have to every so often take a breather and reflect on who and what you are, and how people perceive you and is there things which you’re doing that could change people’s perception for the better, and I try to do that.


RE: Just on that, on perception, you will know because you referred to it earlier or you alluded to it earlier, the perception that some people have of Ian Paisley, you know, they talk about free holidays and all that kind of stuff. How do you respond to those kind of things?


IP: Well, first of all, a lot of it has been self-inflicted by me, and  being self-aware you’ve got accept that you know, if you hadn’t made those mistakes people wouldn’t have those ideas about you. And so, the first thing you have to take on board that you know, this is something which you can therefore change, and that’s what I try to do and to acknowledging. But it’s also thinking that you don’t let things that are attacks on you, anything that attacks you and virtually saying you know, if it doesn’t kill you it makes you stronger. Well, it certainly should make you more resilient, and I think I’m a very very resilient person. But I think I’m also a person who is reflective on the resilience that I have and try to actually say well look you know… I mean I’m the first one to make a joke about those things, and I joke about me at them, because I realise that was an error, that was a mistake. My strength has been to admit to my mistakes.


RE: Tell me something complimentary about Arlene Foster.


IP: I think Arlene is an incredibly resilient woman, and has shown that she can take on really bitter and personal criticism and go through it and come out the other end. I’m not going to say come out the other end unscathed but come out the other end strong and determined, because I don’t think any of this stuff ever leaves you unscathed. So, I think that that is very much a strength that Arlene has, a real determination. She’s also actually to be fair to Arlene, I find her… when you get through all the politics and stuff around her, she’s actually quite a good fun girl, and you know, enjoys a bit of banter and a good joke.


RE: What is it like now, the Ian Paisley that we see today, and what is Ian Paisley’s view of his Catholic neighbours?


IP: I knew very very, probably because we were brought up in a religious household, I knew at a very early age the distinction about people’s identity versus people’s religious views on the church. So, I always had a respect for that and their difference of understanding, that you know, to have a different religious view wasn’t something which made me distrust people as such, and I think it’s important to draw out that distinction.

However, now the Northern Ireland we’re in, I kind of see them in my kids Rodney, you know when I was… my eldest daughter’s 26, my youngest son is 15, to them the Northern Ireland that I grew up in is very much a farm country, it’s a completely different alien country that they’re reading about what their grandfather did as part of their history, and even what their dad’s involved in is kind of their kind of social and political history. And it’s alien to the sort of lives they now live, because Northern Ireland is in a much refreshed and better place, and the Northern Ireland identity is now something that everyone can be proud of and aspire to and aspire to want to change. And I think that that’s you know, a really positive thing that both sections of this divided community have grasped that, that we actually have so much more in common as a people, and that we are so much stronger together when we pull together and play as Team Northern Ireland, we get so much more for our country. Because my desires are the exact same as the desires of my Catholic friends for their kids, and I’ve many Catholic friends, Roman Catholic friends who have children the same age as mine, we socialise with them, I go on holidays with them, we’re friends. One of my, well I can say two to three of my closest friends who are Roman Catholics were at my daughter’s wedding, and they are very very close friends in that way, and I think I have a huge respect for that you know.


RE: How often do you pray?


IP: Every day, several times a day.


RE: Do you pray for the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister?


IP: Yeah, I do. I pray for the country, I pray for the leaders of the country, I pray for our monarch, I pray for our Prime Minister, I pray that there’s wisdom when they’re dealing with foreign countries as well.


RE: But doesn’t that show your tendency then to reach out, because you’re a member of the DUP, you’re Ian Paisley’s son, and here you’re praying for Michelle O’Neill, what does that say about you and who you are?


IP: Well, I hope that on a very personal level it just shows that I am a person of faith, and that that faith is more important to me than all of the political stuff that we get engaged in, and that my prayers are… and I hope they’re not viewed as selfish, because obviously I’m praying that things will work out for us, and I don’t have a particular view of what working out for us means you know, so I hope it’s not seen as a selfish thing that you know, in order to make this happen my way. No, it’s asking God for grace that people will understand and will serve the country well and the people well. And as I say, I do like to pray for our own Prime Minister and for our own leaders across the country, and for my colleagues and for my friends, and when I go into meetings and things I’m not averse to asking God for help and strength and have wisdom. When I get up to speak in Parliament that I’ll have the ability to say the things that need to be said in the way that they have to be said. And some people who have no faith think that’s just a crutch, a psychological crutch to rely on, but I view it as I couldn’t live life without that, that it’s central to my identity.


RE: What do you think heaven looks like?


IP: That it’s so sublime, so incredible, that we just couldn’t comprehend it. So, I think whatever it is, it’s worth living for and getting there.


RE: And do you think you’ll meet your father again?


IP: Oh yeah, I do believe that. I believe that there’s sound theological passages in fact in the Bible that show that people know each other when they’re in heaven, and that the Saints of God will know each other. So, yes absolutely, and I believe it will be a very incredible reunion.


RE: And finally, if today was your last day on this earth, what would you say to your wife and children?


IP: Well, I’ll tell him I love him, but I think they’re so fed up of hearing that that they already know that [laughter]. So, I think they’d say, “yes we know that, have you anything else to tell us dad”. No, I would hope that actually they would say that I was a very hardworking dad and husband, who gave us really good company and we got something in terms of enjoyment with him.


RE: Ian Paisley, thank you.


IP: Thank you very much Rodney, thank you.


Human Nature is a podcast written and presented by The Impartial Reporter’s Rodney Edwards and is available to listen to in full on Apple, Spotify, Google Podcasts, SoundCloud and