Ahern expresses fears for peace talks

Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern said he is concerned about the impasse in the talks process in the North.

Speaking in Belfast having been among the hundreds of people who attended a memorial service for Northern Ireland’s former first minister, Ian Paisley, Mr Ahern said he was worried the British government may be focussed on next year’s Westminster elections and that he had written to the speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, about his concerns.

Mr Ahern said the focus in British politics might be towards the rise of the UK Independence Party, adding: “I do understand political considerations are elsewhere.”

His comments came after relatives and friends stood alongside one-time enemies of the firebrand preacher turned politician during the invitation-only event in Belfast’s Ulster Hall. Paisley, who was 88, died on September 12.

His wife Eileen told the audience how her husband, affectionately known as the “Big Man”, had loved life.

“He was one of the happiest men on Earth,” she said. “He had an incredible zest for life and was happy in whatever he did, whether in the pulpit or the three parliaments in which he served.”

The memorial was organised to provide an opportunity for a public farewell to one of the best-known characters in Northern Ireland politics following a private funeral last month.

For the duration of the service Eileen Paisley sat flanked by her twin sons Ian, who holds his father’s seat at Westminster, and Kyle, a minister in his father’s church.

She momentarily struggled to keep her composure as she recalled her husband’s final moments.

“His home was his castle and he was at his happiest and most relaxed there. It is the place he would have chosen from which to enter his heavenly home and God granted his request.

“On the morning of September 12 when surrounded by Rhonda, Cherith, Kyle, and me — Sharon and Ian were delayed on their ways to home but were able to say their farewells to him on the telephone — he slipped quietly and peacefully into the presence of the Good Shepherd.

“The peace and presence of the Saviour filled our hearts, permeated through the room leaving us with the feeling that we had walked with him right to the door of Heaven and he had just stepped through.

“We knew that immediately when he breathed his last breath on Earth his next breath was taken in Heaven. Neither Ian nor I or any of our family could ask for anything more.”

She said her marriage of 58 years had not been a dictatorship but a partnership filled with laughter and love.

The couple’s three daughters, Rhonda, Sharon and Cherith, sat in the main body of the hall surrounded by other family and friends.

Among the 830 invited guests were the North’s first and deputy first ministers, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, and the leaders of the main parties at Stormont, as well as the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers and PSNI chief constable George Hamilton. Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond also attended.

Ian Paisley Jr told the audience his father had been a plain-speaking, dedicated man of action who was inspirational, steadfast, consistent.

He said: “Dad was a politician with a servant’s heart.”

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