Northern Ireland's Paisley released from hospital
updated 5:42 AM EST, Tue February 28, 2012
Ian Paisley speaks to the press on College Green on March 24, 2010 in London, England.
- Ian Paisley goes home after three weeks in the hospital, his wife says
- Paisley was a key figure in Northern Ireland politics for decades
- He helped end the conflict after long refusing to compromise with Catholics
Belfast, Northern Ireland (CNN) -- Ian Paisley, the firebrand Northern Ireland unionist politician, has been released from the hospital after three weeks, his wife said Tuesday.
Paisley was a key figure in ending three decades of conflict in Northern Ireland, making peace in the end after leading Protestants against compromise with Roman Catholics for years.
Eileen Paisley said she and her family were "delighted that my husband has been able to return home. It is not possible to put into words the depth of our gratitude to those responsible who cared for him these past three weeks, nor can we express sufficiently our thanks to all those who have sent their good wishes and prayers."
Paisley was reported to have been hospitalized for a heart condition but the family did not confirm the reason.
Paisley, 85, stepped down in 2008 as a leader of the power-sharing government formed the year before with Sinn Fein, the main pro-Irish party. He also resigned as head of the Democratic Unionist Party at the same time.
Paisley had health problems in the past and received a pacemaker after becoming ill in the House of Lords of the United Kingdom parliament, which he joined as Lord Bannside in 2010.
He made his name as a hard-line pro-British politician during the Northern Ireland conflict and was leader of the Democratic Unionist Party for almost 40 years.
During decades of seemingly irreversible conflict between Northern Ireland's Protestant and Roman Catholic communities, Paisley was considered an uncompromising figure. The unrest in the province killed at least 3,600 people and injured 36,000 over the years.
To the surprise of many, Paisley agreed to share power with his former sworn enemy, Sinn Fein. Paisley was elected Northern Ireland's first minister in 2007, with former IRA commander Martin McGuinness as deputy first minister.
The pair became known as "the Chuckle Brothers" after developing a close working and personal relationship.
When Paisley stepped down, he was succeeded in both his first minister and Democratic Unionist Party leadership roles by his deputy, Peter Robinson.
CNN's Tom Cohen contributed to this report.
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