Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 2 October 2014

Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness: I still keep in touch with Ian Paisley

Shared laughter between the then First Minister Ian Paisley and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness in May 2007
Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness show Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond how to play a Lambeg Drum
Ian Paisley demonstrates at Stormont in 1981

The Deputy First Minister has revealed he still speaks to Ian Paisley — more than a year after the former DUP leader left office.

“Ian has my mobile number and I have his,” he said. “It’s fair to say we have a good on-going personal relationship.”

Mr McGuinness said he would talk to his ex power-sharing partner “now and again”.

The senior Sinn Fein man said he had phoned Mr Paisley, for example, when requests had come, mostly from sections of the media, requesting them to appear together again.

“I always look back on our period together with great fondness, we had the ability to work together,” he disclosed. “I would speak to him now and again on the telephone — and this is coming from someone who despised Ian Paisley for most of my adult life.

“But during the course of the year when we were in the Office of First and Deputy First Minister it was quite obvious to the public that we had the ability to be cordial and even friendly with each other.”

Mr McGuinness said he believes his former arch-enemy set an example for everybody in our society “about where we need to go”.

“Ian Paisley, if he rings my office, it is answered straight away,” he said.

“Sometimes people come forward with different ideas, mostly from the media, about the prospect that we might do certain things together in terms of interviews and so forth.”

Mr McGuinness insists he has a good — but different — relationship with Peter Robinson

“Peter is a different personality from Ian Paisley but in my time in this office I have always understood the importance of treating people with respect.”

Mr McGuinness said he has good relations with every minister on the Executive, but in the Assembly there are “one or two” SDLP MLAs who do not talk to him.

“If they pass me in the corridor they do not even say hello, even now. I am very philosophical about all of that.

“Peter and I have a good personal relationship and we clearly showed prior to the last meeting of the Executive that we had the ability to crunch down on issues that were a source of division between us.”

While there are “huge challenges” ahead for the Executive, not least in terms of the economy, Mr McGuinness revealed: “There was a batch of issues that had been the source of disagreement and the fact that we were able to agree is something we can take considerable succour from.

“Apart from policing and justice we also cleared quite a number of papers that were presenting some difficulty for us in the run-in to that meeting, but as a result of the effort made by both parties we saw the DUP and Sinn Fein crunch down on a number of issues and reach agreement. I take some comfort from that. Many people out there in the community would wonder in the aftermath of the European election whether or not this process was going to stall or move forward and I think the work by the Executive at the last meeting certainly presents a good omen. But that alone is not enough. We need to keep going, to continue to forge agreements between us.”

He refuses to go into detail but, apart from the policing and justice draft legislation, the meeting also put through rates measures to help households and small businesses, a public consultation on co-ordinated funding for victims and survivors of the Troubles and planning policy on renewable energy, as well as regional transportation and an energy ‘action plan’.

Mr McGuinness recalls what he views as a key moment when he and Mr Robinson visited the Press Association offices in central Belfast last Christmas.

“Normally we are driven right up to the door, but the streets were thronged and I couldn’t get up to the door with people coming up and telling me they were from the Shankill, Rathcoole or Lambeg and saying ‘can I shake you hand’ and ‘youse are doing a great job’. These were not people who had converted to republicanism but that clearly showed me that, yes, there is diminishing opposition but the overwhelming majority want to see these institutions working, though working better.”

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