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Martin McGuinness sends his best wishes to Ian Paisley as he is admitted into hospital for tests

By Rebecca Black

Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness has sent Ian Paisley his best wishes as the former First Minister undergoes tests in hospital.

Mr McGuinness and the former DUP leader – now Lord Bannside – were the unlikely joint leaders of the Assembly from 2007 following the signing of the historic St Andrew's Agreement.

But they surprised critics by developing a warm relationship –earning them the nickname of the 'Chuckle Brothers' because at public events they were often seen smiling and joking together.

Yesterday Mr McGuinness sent his best wishes to Lord Bannside (right), adding: "Hopefully his stay in hospital will be short and he will soon be returned home to his family in good health."

The family of the 87-year-old peer have confirmed that he has been admitted to hospital for tests.

Son Ian Paisley jnr stressed the tests were simply routine, while in a statement Baroness Paisley said her husband was "in good spirits".

"The family are grateful for those who have expressed concern and ask that his privacy be respected," she added.

Lord Bannside was treated for a heart condition last year and has been taken into the Ulster Hospital, near Belfast, this weekend. In February 2012, he spent a week on a life-support machine suffering from heart failure.

He later returned to public life after recovering.

The previous year he had a pacemaker fitted at St Thomas' Hospital in London after falling ill at Westminster. Paramedics had to revive him following his collapse in Parliament.

In 2004 he become seriously ill and later said he had "walked in death's shadow".

Lord Bannside led the DUP into power-sharing at Stormont with Sinn Fein in 2007.

He stood down as First Minister in 2008 and ended 60 years of full-time ministry in January 2012.

The veteran unionist and fundamentalist Protestant preacher has been a colossus of Northern Ireland politics. He was an MP for North Antrim and a divisive figure at a time when the Troubles were at their worst.

Lord Bannside established the DUP in 1971 and opposed every attempt by successive British and Irish governments to create a power-sharing government between nationalists and unionists.

But in a dramatic change of heart after the St Andrews Agreement in 2006, he indicated that the DUP would share power with their former enemies in Sinn Fein.

As a result, he and senior ex-IRA leader Mr McGuinness became First and Deputy First Ministers.

Since he stepped down as First Minister, Lord Bannside has retreated from public life and preached his final sermon as leader of the deeply conservative Free Presbyterian Church which he founded in the 1960s.

When he moved aside as DUP leader he was succeeded by his long-time deputy leader Peter Robinson.

Belfast Telegraph


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