Although the two men have long developed a rapport in private, this very public and official display dramatically announced a new era in North-South relations. It follows Paisley?s agreement to sit with Sinn Fein in the new power-sharing Executive beginning on May 8.
Said the 81-year-old DUP leader, who is soon to be installed as First Minister of Northern Ireland: ?I am proud to be an Ulsterman, but I am also proud of my Irish roots. My father’s birth certificate was lodged at the Four Courts in Dublin and, like many of his generation he fought to see Ireland remain within the union.
“That, of course, as our history demonstrates, was not to be the case. As the leader of the unionist people, with Northern Ireland’s place in the union secured, I believe it is important to engage with our closest neighbor from a position of mutual respect and with assured confidence.?
As a 38-year-old radical preacher, Paisley very publicly opposed the first meeting in January 1965 between Northern Ireland?s Terence O?Neill and Ahern?s predecessor as taoiseach and Fianna Fail leader Sean Lemass.
Paisley?s attitude towards the Republic has softened in recent years. Family members reported last October that he was visibly moved when receiving a 50th wedding anniversary gift sent by Ahern.