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Paisley shakes hands with Ahern

By Noel McAdam

The first ever public handshake between DUP leader Ian Paisley and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern took place before talks between the two leaders in Dublin today.

The First Minister in waiting arrived at Farmleigh House for talks with Mr Ahern in spring sunshine.

As he arrived, the North Antrim MP, who was accompanied by his son Ian Paisley Jr, bellowed: "Good morning. I better shake hands with this man and give you a firm grip."

There was a warm handshake with the Taoiseach at the door of Farmleigh House, with Mr Paisley slapping Mr Ahern affectionately on the right shoulder.

The future relationship between the Irish Government and the new Stormont administration was on today's agenda.

And the contribution from the Republic towards the economic peace dividend was also believed to be on the agenda.

Mr Paisley said: "We both look forward to visiting the battle site at the Boyne, but not to re-fight it. I don't want Mr Ahern to have home advantage.

"As the leader of the unionist people, with Northern Ireland's place in the union secured, I believe it is important to engage with our closest neighbour from a position of mutual respect and with assured confidence.

"Today, we can confidently state that we are making progress to ensure that our two countries can develop and grow side by side in a spirit of generous co-operation.

"Old barriers and threats have been, and are being, removed daily."

Mr Ahern said: "We stand ready to work with the new executive.

"We promise sincere friendship and assured co-operation and I believe we can and we will work together in the interests of everybody on this island.

"We look forward to our cooperation in the north south, and the east-west institutions and in all those areas where we can work together for mutual benefit."

Dublin Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern, who was also attending the Farmleigh House meeting, said there had been a "paradigm shift" in politics in the North.

The province's political parties had "grasped the opportunity of a lifetime", he said - although much work remained to be done.

A partnership Government would lead to the creation of a society where " questions of identity, culture and tradition are no longer identified with discord and division, but are seen through a prism of tolerance, generosity and mutual respect", Mr Ahern added.

The meeting between Mr Paisley and Gerry Adams - and their respective delegations last week - had seen "a shift in the political paradigm of Northern Ireland".

The DUP leader has held formal talks with Taoiseach Mr Ahern a number of times in the recent past, including one in London, but today's meeting is the first since he confirmed his willingness to become First Minister.

Belfast Telegraph


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