Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 December 2014

First Ministers play down rift in first meeting since Maze row

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness
First Minister Peter Robinson

First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness have come face-to-face in public for the first time since the bitter Maze fall-out.

The two leaders met up on a trade mission in New York on Monday and had private talks, but only faced the cameras and the media yesterday.

Mr McGuinness has already said he doesn't want the issue of the peace centre at the former prison site to overshadow their US trip and called for a positive approach from all sides.

The divisions between the two – who have had an at times fraught relationship – widened sharply after Mr Robinson removed the DUP's support for the peace and reconciliation centre at the former Maze site.

Mr Robinson said Sinn Fein's backing for the Castlederg parade commemorating two dead IRA members was the main reason for his U-turn on the centre, and said any facility should now be on a neutral site.

He also referred to the naming of a children's play park after an IRA hunger striker for his decision, saying Sinn Fein had been "insensitive" towards victims.

Mr Robinson added that the whole issue of the peace and reconciliation centre was a "minor issue" compared to the difficulties facing the Northern Ireland economy and creating jobs, and it had little public support.

The DUP leader's move deeply angered Sinn Fein, with Mr McGuinness saying it had added serious difficulties to the political process.

He has since said his party still expected the centre to be built at the Maze site as agreed.

Mr McGuinness yesterday played down any remaining tensions between the pair.

He said that a trade mission was not the place to articulate the "quite serious difficulties" that exist within the political process.

"There's no point in trying to fool people about that.

"There are serious difficulties within the process, but those difficulties need remedies, they need solutions."

He added: "There's no point airing those difficulties here when we're in the United States.

"What we need to do is find solutions to the problem.

"It's on the basis of the work that we've done over the course of the last five years which I think has dramatically improved the lives of our people, clearly pushed the peace process forward."

Mr McGuinness added: "But now we are facing a real challenge – and we're facing a real challenge from extremists who are so-called loyalists and unionists and so-called republicans, who are determined to plunge us back to the past.

"I am even more determined than they are that they will not succeed.

"The best way to deal with these challenges is for all political leaders to be seen standing shoulder-to-shoulder together," he said.

Yesterday both leaders met New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and businessmen from the New York Stock Exchange.

They will also hold preparatory discussions with US diplomat Richard Haass before his visit to Northern Ireland later this month for all-party talks on divisive issues such as flags and parading.

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