Unionist firebrand leader may have done more than just flirt with paramilitaries.

Irish cabinet papers from 1987 reveal that the Israeli ambassador in London reported to the Irish government that Ian Paisley, then the Unionist firebrand leader, sought arms from Israel.

The Irish Ambassador Noel Dorr reported the bizarre request to Dublin in a confidential transmission.

"He (the Israeli Ambassador) said that Rev Ian Paisley had been in touch with him to obtain arms," Dorr wrote.

"I expressed surprise at this since I thought it unlikely that Paisley would leave himself open on something like this.

"The ambassador said the request related to border protection. I said I presumed that the emphasis was on surveillance equipment rather than on arms, but the ambassador did not elaborate further. He said he had replied to Paisley that these things could be dealt with only between governments."

Paisley did flirt with paramilitaries, most notably the armed Third Force he created in the early 1980s. He was denied access to America and had his visa revoked for threatening violence.

Rallies were held on hillsides near Newry, and Armagh. On Dec 3, 1981 Paisley said that the Third Force had between 15,000 and 20,000 members.

The group was established by Paisley as a complement to the security forces (Paisley had previously been associated with the Ulster Protestant Volunteers loyalist paramilitary group). It grew from opposition to the increasing pace of co-operation between the governments of the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland

In a statement, Paisley’s son – North Antrim DUP MP Ian Paisley – angrily denied his father had sought arms from Israel.

"The claims being made by the Press that my father was involved in an attempt to obtain arms from Israel are absolute nonsense," he said.

"The basis of a chat at a function between officials – where drink was taken – who were hostile Irish Government officials with their own prejudiced agenda, and where there are no official notes other than cloudy recollections – tells its own story. There is no doubt that given our poor border security in the 1980s... my father made it his business to highlight how other countries could protect themselves from border incursions, such as Israel.

"He publicly and privately urged HMG to up its game and protect our citizens. That is a very far stretch from an attempt to go about the private procurement of arms. Obviously, it is easily to slander the dead. If my father was alive this story wouldn't see the light of day."

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