Former Northern Ireland power-sharing partners Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley are still in touch more than a year after Paisley left office.
Current deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland McGuinness, who used to be arch-enemies with former DUP leader Paisley, revealed: “Ian has my mobile number and I have his. It’s fair to say we have a good on-going personal relationship.”
McGuinness said that he remembers their time together fondly, and that his relationship with Paisley serves as an example for the Irish “about where we need to go.”
“I always look back on our period together with great fondness, we had the ability to work together,” he said. “I would speak to him now and again on the telephone — and this is coming from someone who despised Ian Paisley for most of my adult life.
“But during the course of the year when we were in the Office of First and Deputy First Minister it was quite obvious to the public that we had the ability to be cordial and even friendly with each other.”
McGuinness explained that if Paisley calls his office, he answers the phone immediately, and said that he gets requests for the pair to make a public appearance together.
“Sometimes people come forward with different ideas, mostly from the media, about the prospect that we might do certain things together in terms of interviews and so forth,” he said.
The Northern Ireland leader also insists he has a positive relationship with current DUP head Peter Robinson.
“Peter is a different personality from Ian Paisley but in my time in this office I have always understood the importance of treating people with respect,” McGuinness said.
“Peter and I have a good personal relationship and we clearly showed prior to the last meeting of the Executive that we had the ability to crunch down on issues that were a source of division between us.”
However, several SDLP MLAs refuse to talk to the Sinn Fein politician.
“If they pass me in the corridor they do not even say hello, even now. I am very philosophical about all of that,” McGuinness said.
But he still says that despite the challenges, the DUP and Sinn Fein are able to harmoniously work together.
“There was a batch of issues that had been the source of disagreement and the fact that we were able to agree is something we can take considerable succour from,” he said.
“Apart from policing and justice we also cleared quite a number of papers that were presenting some difficulty for us in the run-in to that meeting, but as a result of the effort made by both parties we saw the DUP and Sinn Fein crunch down on a number of issues and reach agreement.
“I take some comfort from that. Many people out there in the community would wonder in the aftermath of the European election whether or not this process was going to stall or move forward and I think the work by the Executive at the last meeting certainly presents a good omen.
“But that alone is not enough. We need to keep going, to continue to forge agreements between us.”