Paisley-Ahern gathering “constructive”

DUP leader Ian Paisley has held “historic” talks with the Irish PM.

Democratic Unionist Party leader Ian Paisley has held “very constructive” talks with Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

The meeting in London yesterday comes ahead of the review of the Good Friday Agreement on February 3.

Five MPs from the DUP accompanied Mr Ahern to the meeting at the Irish Embassy in London, in what was the first meeting between Dr Paisley and Mr Ahern since the DUP emerged as the dominant voice for unionism in Northern Ireland, following success in recent assembly elections.

The assembly was suspended in October 2002 amid allegations of an IRA spy ring at Stormont.

The Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen and Irish Justice Minister Michael McDowell joined Mr Ahern.

The DUP was willing to work with both unionists and nationalists, Dr Paisley said.

Dr Paisley said the DUP wanted to maintain “good neighbourly relations” with the Republic of Ireland “in a manner that is to the mutual benefit of both Northern Ireland and the Republic.”

Mr Ahern said the meeting was “businesslike and cordial,” with the DUP willing to engage constructively and cooperatively in the review.

“We are here to try to do business and I think Dr Paisley and his colleagues said they were prepared to engage in that. Let’s see how we get on.

“Today was a start, but it was a good start.”

But the “big issue” remained IRA guns and the purported links with Sinn Fein, Dr Paisley insisted.

Dr Paisley speaking to journalists afterwards said:

“The meeting was clear and distinct. Each party put their positions clearly and distinctly and I think now we have to face up to the big issue, and the big issue is to get the guns out of the hands of the terrorists.”

On the matter of guns Mr Ahern said: “I think what Dr Paisley said is that he wants to see the end of the guns in Northern Ireland. We agree to that.”