The DUP leader Ian Paisley, who is set to resign in May, has revealed that he never shook Martin McGuinness’s hand in almost a year of government.
Speaking about his relationship with the Sinn Féin deputy first minister, the veteran unionist leader and first minister said that despite their good working relationship, to shake hands with the Sinn Féin member would be a “farce”.
Mr Paisley set out what he said were the reasons behind his decision to stand down, saying it was time for a “new generation” to shape the country’s future.
The 81-year-old, who will retire as first minister in May, denied suggestions that he had been forced out by DUP colleagues.
In a provocative statement he said Sinn Féin members were no longer “true republicans” because they had accepted Britain’s right to govern in Ireland.
In an interview with the BBC, Mr Paisley said he had “smashed” Sinn Féin because the party was now involved in a partitionist Assembly.
“I did smash them because I took away their main plank,” he said.
“Their main plank was that they would not recognise the British government.
“Now they are in part of the British government.
“They can’t be true republicans when they now accept the right of Britain to govern this country and to take part in that government.”
Mr Paisley, who will remain as the MP and Assembly member for North Antrim, described himself as a “sinner saved by the grace of God”.
“I have my faults, which are many, which I lament,” he said.
“I want to do the best for my country and I want to say that I believed that when I helped to get a settlement of the Northern Ireland situation – and I was only a helper, I don’t deserve all the praise.”
Meanwhile, his son, Ian Paisley jnr has retaken his place on the North’s policing board, denying that his reappointment was a factor in his father’s decision to resign.
Mr Paisley jnr had himself resigned in disgrace just days earlier following a series of reports concerning his lobbying for business friends and his financial affairs.
He was dramatically reappointed last week following the announcement that Jeffrey Donaldson was chosen as the DUP’s new junior minister in the northern Executive. This meant that Mr Donaldson could not hold his seat on the board.
Before taking his seat alongside three DUP colleagues, he dismissed what he described as “rumour and gossip” that huis father had resigned as a quid pro quo in order to preserve his son’s political career.
“I try to live in the real world, not the rumour merchants’ world,” he said.
He was welcomed to the board by chairman Desmond Rea.
“Thank you, it’s good to be back,” Mr Paisley jnr replied.