Loyalist ‘brigadier’ Jackie McDonald and Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams have met face-to-face for the first time, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
It happened yesterday when Mr Adams came to offer condolences to the family of loyalist community worker Harry Haggan who worked on the Suffolk-Lenadoon interface in Belfast.
Mr Haggan, a former prisoner with UDA links, died on Friday. His funeral takes place today, with some republicans expected to attend.
Mr Adams first called his widow Margaret and then asked to visit the family home.
The loyalist and republican leaders met on the peaceline and arrived at the house together.
They had spoken previously on the telephone, but had never met.
“I’ve viewed him from a distance,” the UDA leader told the Belfast Telegraph.
“He didn’t seem to be the type of person you could get close to.
“But today (Tuesday) I thanked him for what he did for the family. It was a wonderful gesture.”
He described Mr Haggan as a man who had helped create a better atmosphere for the two communities on the Suffolk-Lenadoon interface — dealing with difficult issues such as flags and bonfires.
And Mr McDonald said it was only when the west Belfast MP visited the family home that they “realised the work that Harry was doing”.
“He praised Harry for his work and his courage,” the loyalist leader said.
“And when Gerry told them this was the first time he and I had met, there was an even greater sense of pride.
“They couldn’t believe Harry’s death had brought us into the same room.
“He left the family with a great sense of pride.”
Three years ago Adams stepped into the loyalist community to attend the funeral of political leader David Ervine — just weeks before the historic Stormont agreement between Sinn Fein and the DUP.