Paisleys to meet President at Áras


FORMER FIRST minister and DUP leader the Rev Ian Paisley and his wife Baroness Eileen will meet President Mary McAleese and her husband Martin for lunch today at Áras an Uachtaráin.

Dr Paisley, who was elevated to the House of Lords last week, and Baroness Paisley also attended sessions of the Dáil and Seanad. A smiling Dr Paisley appeared to enjoy the rowdy scenes in the Dáil chamber as Opposition TDs complained about next week’s sessions, during which the House will have no order of business, adjournment debates or votes.

“I could take you to the Ballymena Town Council and show you how they do it. That there was a genteel performance,” he said afterwards.

Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern brought the couple from the Dáil to the Seanad chamber. The controversy surrounding Senator Ivor Callely’s travel expenses was being discussed during the Order of Business, and a number of Fianna Fáil Senators also expressed concerns about aspects of the Civil Partnership Bill.

Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport Mary Hanafin then accompanied the couple on a visit to the National Museum of Ireland on Kildare Street, where director Dr Patrick Wallace pointed out a number of “Ulster objects”. They also visited the National Library and Glasnevin Cemetery.

Meanwhile, Mr Cowen and Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin held separate meetings with delegations from Sinn Féin and the SDLP in Government Buildings for the first time since the Westminster elections. “The huge progress in Northern Ireland has been copper-fastened by the recent election results and the successful completion of the devolution of policing and justice. I welcome the clear commitment by the prime minister and the new British government to the Good Friday agreement and all that has followed,” Mr Cowen said.

“We now need to move forward to a new phase of working together, involving both governments and the Northern Ireland Executive, in the spirit of generosity and common purpose that is the foundation of the agreement.

“We have new challenges to face which we can face all the better by working together. I hope to see good progress on a range of issues of joint concern at the next meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council Plenary in July.” There were also discussions on “the shared concerns of the Government and the Northern Ireland parties on the situation in Gaza”, the Taoiseach’s spokesman confirmed.

The forthcoming publication of the Saville Report into the events of Bloody Sunday was discussed.

The spokesman said the Taoiseach identified a number of new challenges and opportunities. “These include working together to deal with the economic crisis, with a more ambitious approach to co-operation in delivering improved public services on an all-island basis against a background of fiscal restraint North and South.”

The Sinn Féin delegation included party president Gerry Adams, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, the North’s Minister for Agriculture Michelle Gildernew and vice-president of Sinn Féin and former MEP Mary-Lou McDonald.

Mr Adams said he had called for the Israeli ambassador to be expelled. “Ireland needs to send out a clear message to the Israeli government. This behaviour is unacceptable. Summoning the ambassador to talks is not enough. We asked the Government that he be expelled from Ireland.”

The SDLP delegation included party leader Margaret Ritchie, former leader Mark Durkan, the North’s Minister for Social Development Alex Attwood and Alasdair McDonnell MP.

Ms Ritchie said she had given Mr Cowen a document containing her party’s proposals to achieve Irish unity, including the establishment of a “Forum for Unity”.

“It is the SDLP’s belief that those of us who have a vision, plan and desire for Irish unity have an obligation to explain and share it with those who do not,” she said.