Headlines > Blair a ‘fool’ to convert, said Paisley

23 January 2014 | by James Macintyre

Blair a ‘fool’ to convert, said Paisley

Ian Paisley told Tony Blair he was “a fool” when the former Prime Minister informed the Protestant politician that he was going to be received into the Church.

The two men met in December 2007, hours before Mr Blair was formally received at Archbishop’s House, Westminster.

Mr Paisley, who was Northern Ireland’s First Minister at the time, described their conversation in a BBC documentary on Monday: “As we were walking down the stairs he stopped, he looked back at me and he said, ‘Ian, there is something I need to tell you’.”

Mr Blair, who had left office seven months earlier, then pointed to a clock and said: “When the hands of that clock, when they come to eight o’clock, I will be a Roman Catholic … I didn’t want you to leave without telling you; I’d rather tell you myself.”

Mr Paisley reacted bluntly. “And I said, ‘You are a fool,’ and I walked on,” he told the BBC Northern Ireland documentary, Paisley: Genesis To Revelation – Face To Face With Eamonn Mallie.

Mr Paisley’s attitude to Catholics appears to have softened since that exchange with Blair, however. In 2010, he described how he prayed with the Sinn Fein deputy First Minister and one-time enemy, Martin McGuinness.

“His mother was seriously ill, and he said to me that he was very worried,” Mr Paisley told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “I said I could understand that, and said, ‘Look, it may be very strange to you, but what I do when I’m in trouble, I go to God Almighty in prayer,’ and he said, ‘Will you pray with me?’ and I said, ‘Certainly, I will.’”

The Today presenter John Humphrys asked how he could have prayed with Mr McGuinness, having previously said he and other Sinn Fein politicians would “go to hell”. Mr Paisley responded: “I’d rather see him in Heaven redeemed.”

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