First handshake for leaders in North
Published 18/01/2010 | 05:00
REVELATIONS about Peter Robinson's wife Iris have indirectly led to a political first for a Democratic Unionist Party leader -- a handshake with Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness.
The troubled politician revealed yesterday that the republican Deputy First Minister offered his hand to commiserate with him over his personal troubles.
"He expressed sympathy to me and put out his hand," Mr Robinson said of the private exchange. "I thought it would be wrong of me in those circumstances to do anything other than that (shake it)."
Mr Robinson has temporarily stepped down as First Minister in the North to deal with the fallout from revelations that destroyed his wife's political career and threaten his.
He is facing a series of official probes after claims he did not alert the authorities to Mrs Robinson's failure to declare £50,000 she got from two wealthy developers to set her teenage lover up in business -- allegations he vehemently denies.
News of the handshake comes as the DUP and Sinn Fein remain locked in intensive negotiations aimed at securing a breakthrough in the long-running row over devolving policing powers to Stormont.
The deeply symbolic moment between the effective head of unionism in Northern Ireland and a self-confessed former IRA commander would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.
The relationship between the two leaders had appeared colder and less personal than the bonhomie that characterised Mr McGuinness's political partnership with former DUP leader Ian Paisley.
But while the firebrand Protestant preacher and ex-IRA member were dubbed the 'Chuckle Brothers', Mr Paisley insisted they never shook hands.
Mr Robinson's account of the pair's exchanges after the claims about his wife emerged hints at a much warmer relationship than the one often portrayed in public.
"(McGuiness) very kindly sent me text messages, then voicemail messages and spoke to me privately about the issues," he said.
The marathon devolution talks resume at Stormont Castle today amid mounting speculation a deal could be imminent.