Page last updated at 11:49 GMT, Sunday, 17 January 2010

Robinson shakes hands with McGuinness for first time

Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson
Mr McGuinness reached out his hand in a private meeting with Mr Robinson

DUP leader Peter Robinson has shaken hands with Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness for the first time, it has emerged.

Mr Robinson told the Sunday Times Mr McGuinness reached out his hand in a private meeting to commiserate with him over his personal troubles.

"He expressed sympathy to me and put out his hand," he said.

"I thought it would be wrong of me in those circumstances to do anything other than that (shake it)."

Mr Robinson announced last Monday he was standing aside as Northern Ireland's first minister for six weeks to clear his name over an allegation surrounding his wife Iris's financial conduct.

He told the paper Mr McGuinness "very kindly sent me text messages, then voice mail messages and spoke to me privately about the issues".

The DUP and Sinn Fein have been holding intensive talks at Stormont in recent days about transferring policing and justice powers from London to Belfast.

These talks will resume on Monday.

During Northern Ireland's peace process, handshakes between political opponents have been seen as highly symbolic.

While the relationship between Mr Robinson's predecessor Ian Paisley and Mr McGuinness was seen as much warmer, Mr Paisley insisted they had never shaken hands.

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