Handshake Is the First to Cross the Stormont Divide; Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness Commiserates with DUP's Robinson

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), January 18, 2010 | Go to article overview

Handshake Is the First to Cross the Stormont Divide; Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness Commiserates with DUP's Robinson


Byline: Mike Jones

THE revelations about Peter Robinson's wife Iris have indirectly led to a political first for a Democratic Unionist leader - a handshake with Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness.

The troubled politician revealed yesterday that the republican Deputy First Minister offered out his hand to commiserate with him over his personal troubles.

"He expressed sympathy to me and put out his hand," Mr Robinson said of the private exchange. "I thought it would be wrong of me in those circumstances to do anything other than that (shake it)."

Mr Robinson has temporarily stepped down as First Minister to deal with the fall-out from revelations that destroyed his wife's political career and threatens his.

He is facing a series of official probes after claims he did not alert the authorities to Mrs Robinson's failure to declare pounds 50,000 she obtained from two wealthy developers to set her teenage lover up in business - allegations he vehemently denies.

News of the handshake comes as the DUP and Sinn Fein remain locked in intensive negotiations aimed at securing a breakthrough in the long running row over devolving policing powers to Stormont.

The deeply symbolic moment between the effective head of unionism in Northern Ireland and a self-confessed former IRA commander would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.

The relationship between the two leaders has appeared colder and less personal than the bonhomie that characterised Mr McGuinness's political partnership with former DUP leader Ian Paisley.

But while the firebrand Protestant preacher and ex IRA member were dubbed the "chuckle brothers" such was their jocularity when together, Mr Paisley has insisted they never shook hands. …

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