Ian Paisley has said that he no longer wants to smash Sinn Fein and has urged unionists to recognise how far Martin McGuinness has travelled from his IRA roots.
Lord Bannside, who in 1985 led the famous ‘smash Sinn Fein’ campaign during which he posed with a sledgehammer, said the Sinn Fein of today is not the Sinn Fein of the Troubles.
The former first minister made the comments in an interview with Mark Carruthers for a book about the Ulster identity.
The BBC political broadcaster interviewed 36 people either from Northern Ireland or linked to the Province for the book, Alternative Ulsters.
In the book, which was launched in Belfast last night, Lord Bannside stressed his identity as an Ulsterman but said: “I would never deny I was an Irishman.”
He added: “The English that came over here were ‘Irish-ised’ very quickly.”
Dr Paisley also said that “the South is not as Irish as it was”.
Asked about his entry into government with Mr McGuinness in 2007, Lord Bannside said: “Aye. Well, Martin did what I wanted him to. I never had any trouble with him.”
He added: “He may be a Sinn Feiner but he’s a different Sinn Feiner from the old Sinn Fein. I mean, you’ll hear his statements condemning [someone] who was shot. You’d never have had that [before]... we must give them credit for where they are. I mean, they have come a long way.”
Dr Paisley was less effusive about Gerry Adams, saying: “Well, I wouldn’t be so sure about Adams.
“Adams, I don’t think, has the power within the party today. I think the other man is the leader of the party.” And, asked whether he still wanted to smash Sinn Fein, he said: “No”.
The book explores how the concept of Ulster has for some changed from referring to the nine counties of the ancient Irish province to the six of modern-day Northern Ireland while others who once saw themselves having an Ulster, Irish or British identity now see themselves as Northern Irish.
It includes interviews with Gerry Adams, Paddy Ashdown, Kenneth Branagh, Joe Brolly, Gary Lightbody, Mary McAleese, Peter Robinson, Paul Rankin and Liam Neeson.
The book also has the first interview with Seamus Heaney to be published posthumously.
Mr Carruthers, who has been working on the project for more than two years, said common to all those he interviewed was “an affection for the place”.
The Londonderry-born journalist said: “The notion of identity is one of the most contested issues in this part of the world and it sheds a lot of light on who we are.”
He said the book showed that identity is “much more complex than you think” and added: “You’ve got people like Joe Brolly saying ‘I’m happy to think of myself as Northern Irish’; you’ve got people like Eamonn McCann saying he takes a slightly perverse pleasure in signing a hotel register ‘Northern Irish’.”
l Alternative Ulsters is published by Liberties Press and costs £24.99