In an apparent softening of his once unwavering views, Ian Paisley – the former firebrand leader and later First Minister of Northern Ireland – has expressed support for the Northern civil rights movement that flourished just before the beginning of 'the Troubles.'

The Irish Times reports that the former DUP leader was asked by journalist Eamonn Mallie for his view on the conditions Catholics had to endure, which triggered civil disobedience against unfair housing, employment and electoral rights.

Paisley replied, "It wasn't fair. A fair government is that every man has the same power to vote for what he wants. No, it wasn't justice at all."

However, the former First Minister went on to qualify his support and criticize the movement and its leaders, denouncing it as a front for those pushing for a united Ireland.

In the BBC interview, which will air on Monday night, he said, "Those that put their hands to that have to carry some of the blame for what happened in our country.

"The civil rights movement was tied up with threats and was tied up in other things. It was part of the overall cauldron that was burning and was being heated in various sorts of sections of the community to get their own way."

Paisley also spoke of his memories of Bloody Sunday in January 1972, when 13 unarmed civilians were shot and killed by British paratroopers in Derry.

He said, "I was very angry that that's what it had come to. I felt it was a very dangerous thing and then the attempt to cover it for what it was not. The Inquiry afterwards proved that some of these people had neither weapons, nor were they using weapons. They were just making a protest within the law."

The Irish Times also reports that Paisley stands by his past denunciation of Catholicism during the in-depth interview, but states that he "denies he said everything attributed to him over many decades as a Free Presbyterian preacher."

The veteran unionist leader also denied responsibility for the serious rioting that took place following protests that he led in Belfast in the 1960s.

He said, "I believe I was right in what I did.

"The people who rioted are the people [who] will have to pay for that."

And when quizzed on past claims that priests abetted the IRA and that ammunition was secretly stored in churches, he added, "What I said, I said. I have nothing to add to it."

Despite once vowing he would never share power with Sinn Fein, Paisley spent over a year at Stormont as Northern Ireland First Minister, working with Martin McGuinness, the deputy First Minister and former IRA leader.

In May 2008 Paisley finally stepped down from politics, just weeks after he had resigned as Moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church, which he founded.

In the same interview, Paisley also effectively blamed the Irish government for provoking the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings, which claimed the lives of 33 people. He said the bombings by hardline loyalists took place partly because "political leaders brought it on themselves."

No one has ever been charged with the atrocities, although there have been persistent accusations that rogue members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary colluded in the attack carried out by the Ulster Volunteer Force.

"I was very much shocked that there was anyone going to be hurt in that way," Paisley said. But he insisted that people "brought that on themselves" through their own political leaders.

He said, "The attitude of the Southern government on Northern Ireland was ridiculous."

The veteran unionist leader continued, "I not only had nothing to do with it [the bombings], but I'd said I had nothing to do with it and denounced the people who had done it. What more could I do?  I took my stand.

"I denounced what was wrong, but I could not say to the people, 'Just sit down and let them put a rope round your neck.'"

The Belfast Telegraph also reports that Paisley revealed in the interview that his father James's life was spared when a gang of up to 50 republicans threatened to shoot him in the early 1920s.

James, a Baptist minister, was dragged from his car and held up against a wall.

But it was the sight of him, Ian Paisley as a tot, that softened the republicans.

"The reason he got away was me. Because I had been born," Paisley says during the program.

Paisley is said to be making a good recovery in the hospital in Co. Down where he spent New Year's Day after taking ill.

Interviewer Eamonn Mallie said that Paisley told him it would be his last interview.

He said, "He [Paisley] didn't seek any editorial control. He took everything I was able to throw at him. He was gracious, but a wily old fox. A lot of this was incredibly painful for him, but when it finished he shook my hand and said, "Right, that's my last word."

"Paisley: Genesis To Revelation – Face To Face with Eamonn Mallie" airs on BBC1 Northern Ireland next Monday at 10.30pm. The second part of the interview will be broadcast the following Monday.