Robinson's plight prompts handshake from McGuinness

DUP leader Peter Robinson

The revelations about Peter Robinson’s wife Iris have indirectly led to a political first for a Democratic Unionist leader – a handshake with Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness.

The troubled politician revealed today that the republican Deputy First Minister offered out 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 to deal with the fall-out from revelations that destroyed his wife’s political career and threatens 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 (€55,000) she obtained from two wealthy developers to set her teenage lover up in business – allegations he vehemently denies.

News of the hand shake comes as the DUP and Sinn Féin 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 the North and a self-confessed former IRA commander would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.

The relationship between the two leaders has 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’ such was their jocularity when together, Mr Paisley has 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 voice mail messages and spoke to me privately about the issues,” he told the Sunday Times.

Both main parties in the powersharing administration are today taking a break from the marathon devolution talks.

They will resume at Stormont Castle tomorrow amid mounting speculation a deal could be imminent.

Yesterday, Mr Robinson briefed party colleagues on the progress of the negotiations.

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams later expressed hope an agreement over the transfer of law and order powers from Westminster was workable.

“Our focus has to be to make this work and it is my view that it can be made to work within the context of the Good Friday and St Andrews agreements (peace accords of 1998 and 2006) and that’s where our focus is,” he said.

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