30/01/2004

'Constructive' meeting between Paisley and Ahern

The historic London meeting between the Democratic Unionist Party leader Ian Paisley and Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern has been described as "constructive".

The first political meeting between the staunchly anti-Agreement DUP leader and the Taoiseach was said to be "businesslike" though as expected full consensus was not forthcoming.

Speaking after the meeting, Rev Paisley said Mr Ahern knew he was "facing old-fashioned traditional unionists". He said: "I think now we can face up to the big issue, and the big issue is to get the guns out of the hands of terrorists".

The five-strong DUP delegation of Westminster MPs met the Irish Ministerial delegation of Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Brian Cowan and Irish Justice Minister Michael McDowell in the Irish Embassy in London. It is the only high-level political meeting to take place between the DUP and the Irish government.

The DUP position has been implacably opposition to what the party view as Irish interference in the affairs of Northern Ireland, which they consider as solely British. However, changes in the Irish constitution, which were part of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, removed territorial claims with respect to Northern Ireland.

Following the meeting Mr Ahern said that the DUP had what he described as "problems" but that they had been "clear about their attitude that they want to do business". He said that the meeting was "a good start".

Election gains by the two political extremes in the province have left the Democratic Unionist Party as now the largest Unionist party and Sinn Féin as the largest Nationalist party.

This week the main political parties in Northern Ireland have been setting out their views on the review process, which is to begin next Tuesday under the auspices of the British and Irish governments.

(SP)

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