In 1986, Paisley believed he’d never be in another Stormont

Ian Paisley pictured in 1986
Ian Paisley pictured in 1986

Ian Paisley believed the Stormont assembly which collapsed amid unionist protests against the Anglo Irish Agreement (AIA) would be the last one he would sit in, official files from 1986 have revealed.

The DUP leader and Peter Robinson were carried from Parliament Buildings by members of the RUC following the dissolution of the devolved institutions during that strife-filled summer. Twenty years later he would be first minister and sharing power with Sinn Fein.

Marching season violence, a rates strike and unionist day of action disrupting factories and shops marked the period after the signing of an accord between the Republic and the UK which gave Ireland a consultative role in Northern Ireland affairs for the first time.

Dr Paisley felt democracy was dead and he could take to the streets with “impunity”, according to an NIO official.

He said Ulster Unionist leader James Molyneaux did not view the crisis as the end of the democratic process.

The file, released at the Public Records Office in Belfast, added: “Both leaders nevertheless seem pessimistic about the future. Molyneaux said that the doors could close on all hopes of a peaceful and just political settlement in Northern Ireland, whilst Paisley thought it would be the last assembly he would sit in; that there would not be another in his political life time.”

But just over a decade later the Good Friday Agreement was signed following republican and loyalist ceasefires, entailing an Irish dimension, a role for Sinn Fein at a newly-devolved Stormont and far-reaching reforms to policing.

In 2007 Dr Paisley took power as first minister. Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness was his deputy first minister.

The pair struck up a relationship marked by bonhomie, becoming known as the Chuckle Brothers.