Paisley and Ahern exchange first handshake

The DUP leader Ian Paisley and Irish prime minister Bertie Ahern today shared their first public handshake.

The two leaders met in Dublin for informal talks on the future of the Northern Ireland assembly and the relationship between the Stormont executive and Irish government.

First minister Mr Paisley met the Taoiseach on the steps of Farmleigh House and said “I better shake hands with this man and give you a firm grip”, before patting him affectionately on the shoulder.

Both Mr Paisley and Mr Ahern spoke of a “new spirit of friendship”.

Irish foreign minister Dermot Ahern said the DUP and Sinn Fein had “grasped the opportunity of a lifetime in agreeing to share power”.

Last week’s meeting, at which Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams met publicly with Mr Paisley for the first time, “saw a shift in the political paradigm of Northern Ireland,” Mr Ahern said.

“The parties grasped the opportunity of a lifetime and committed themselves to support and participate fully in a partnership government and in all of the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement,” the foreign minister concluded.

The DUP leader is expected to discuss the financial package for the devolved executive. Mr Paisley is seeking additional funding from the chancellor.

Gordon Brown has already promised £51 billion over ten years from the Treasury. The Irish government has already committed £400 million to improve the north’s infrastructure.