By SHAWN POGATCHNIK, Associated Press
DUBLIN (AP) — Northern Ireland politician Ian Paisley is recovering from his recent near-death experience and remains a "hearty and strong man," one of his sons said Tuesday in the family's first comment on the Protestant evangelist's 16-day hospitalization.
Ian Paisley Jr. said his 85-year-old father was out of intensive care at the Ulster Hospital near Belfast. He credited the prayers of thousands of supporters with aiding his medical fightback.
"My dad is making very, very steady and good progress. And I believe that he will demonstrate that there's life in the old dog yet," Paisley Jr. told BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback program. "He's a very, very hearty and strong man, and I'm very pleased with his progress."
The Paisleys had maintained silence since his Feb. 5 hospitalization for an unspecified heart problem, and at one point even instructed hospital staff not to confirm whether he was still inside the building.
Paisley Jr. offered no details on his father's condition or his expected length of hospitalization. The elder Paisley suffered a similarly serious health scare in 2004 but recovered fully. He was fitted with a pacemaker in early 2011.
His son praised the professionalism and care provided by the Ulster Hospital's doctors, nurses and domestic staff as "frankly fabulous."
Paisley spent four decades blocking political compromise in Northern Ireland as founder of the hard-line Democratic Unionist Party and his stridently anti-Catholic denomination, the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster. He refused any contact with Sinn Fein, the public face of the outlawed Irish Republican Army.
But after the IRA disarmed and renounced violence, Paisley stunned the world by forming a power-sharing government alongside Sinn Fein in 2007, a surprise triumph for peacemaking in the British territory.
In 2008 Paisley stepped down as leader of both the Free Presbyterians and Democratic Unionists and as first minister of the power-sharing government. He retired from the European Parliament in 2009, the British Parliament in 2010, and the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2011.
Ian Paisley Jr. ran successfully to fill his father's British parliamentary seat in 2010. The British government that year elevated the elder Paisley to the House of Lords, alongside his wife Eileen.
Paisley's home Free Presbyterian Church, the Martyrs Memorial in Belfast, devoted a special service to his retirement as a full-time preacher in January just days before his hospitalization.