TONY Blair shook hands with Ian Paisley in front of the Downing Street cameras on Thursday but kept his hands to himself when posing with Gerry Adams. What nonsense is that? Mr Adams is an elected member of the Northern Ireland Assembly (if Mr Paisley ever allows it to meet) and as such is as fully entitled to a handshake as anyone else. Mr Paisley is a man whose political manners are so bad that he won't even sit in the same room or pass the time of day with a representative of Sinn Fein even though that person will have won the confidence of a sizeable number of the electors of Northern Ireland. It would be understandable if Mr Blair refused to shake hands with either Mr Paisley or Mr Adams but to prefer one over the other is ludicrous. In any case what is a handshake from the Prime Minister worth? At meetings around the world, especially at those of the Commonwealth, Mr Blair will have shaken hands with quite a few questionable characters. Why, then, does he so conspicuously single out Mr Adams? When the history of the peace process in Northern Ireland comes to be written we shall probably discover that Mr Adams did more to move it forward than anyone else, certainly more than Mr Paisley who has done nothing but block it in every way he could find. And, true to form, on Thursday his deputy, Peter Robinson, said that the Democratic Unionists would make a lengthy assessment of whether the IRA had given up its weapons before agreeing to power-sharing with Sinn Fein: “We will take a prolonged period of time to make that assessment”. Party sources briefed the press that it could take as long as two years before they were satisfied. The past decade has shown that the only way forward in Northern Ireland is forward. If that statement of the obvious does not appeal to Mr Paisley, he should step aside. He and those who support him are pointlessly trying to hold back progress that is inevitable.


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