Queen’s handshake with former IRA leader smoothes the way ahead
THE Queen and former Irish Republican Army commander Martin McGuinness – now Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister – will make history when they meet in Belfast next week.
The decision was announced by Sinn Fein yesterday following a special meeting of the party.
Such an act would once have been unthinkable but on Wednesday Mr McGuinness will attend a cross-border charity event at Belfast’s Lyric Theatre along with Irish President Michael D Higgins and the monarch.
However, the historic handshake planned between the two is to take place behind closed doors at the beginning of the engagement. The meeting is nevertheless being seen as a major milestone in efforts to normalise relations between nationalists and unionists.
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams confirmed that his party’s ruling executive had backed the planned meeting.
But he added: “This will understandably cause difficulties for some republicans and nationalists, especially for those folks who suffered at the hands of British forces.”
Sinn Fein’s ruling council, the Ard Comhairle, met for four hours in Dublin before announcing its decision to accept the invitation made to Mr McGuinness.
Mr Adams said Sinn Fein wanted to see a new republic in which the traditions of orange and green could be brought together in a cordial union. The Ard Comhairle decision was not unanimous but was a clear majority.
Mr Adams told reporters: “We don’t have to do it. We’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do, despite the fact that it will cause difficulties for our own folk. “But it’s good for Ireland. It’s good for this process we’re trying to develop. It’s the right time and the right reason.”
He said that Mr McGuinness would remain “as true, as staunch, as active a republican as he ever was”.
It is understood the meeting will take place without cameras being present, before the Queen, Mr McGuinness and other key guests including Mr Higgins and Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson join the main event, which will be covered by the media. The handshake will be viewed as another in a long list of dramatic advances in Anglo-Irish relations.
One of the most significant was the Queen laying a wreath at the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin, which honours republicans who died fighting British rule, followed by a tour of the headquarters of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), before she spoke Irish at a banquet in her honour.
Since those events Mr McGuinness has spoken several times of how he was struck by the Queen’s gestures.
Irish premier, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who was in Scotland at the British-Irish Council summit yesterday, which was also attended by Mr McGuinness, said he had been confident the handshake would be agreed to.
Mr Kenny said: “The Queen herself, when she spoke in Dublin Castle, said in hindsight if we could do things again there are some things that we might do differently, and some things that we wouldn’t do at all.
“We’re in a very different space in 2012. We’re in a modern era.”
Former Cabinet minister Lord Tebbit, whose wife was paralysed in the 1984 Brighton bombing, said: “Personally, I think it is hopeful that Mr McGuinness has decided, presumably on behalf of Sinn Fein, that he should accept the sovereignty of the Queen over Northern Ireland.”
Former Northern Ireland secretary Peter Hain said: “This is of huge historic importance. It does not mean Sinn Fein have departed one inch from their commitment to an independent Ireland. Nor does it mean the Queen will forget the assassination of her cousin, Lord Mountbatten.
“But it does show how everybody is turning their backs on the past of horror and violence and moving towards peace between previously bitter enemies. Inevitably past victims of IRA atrocities will be upset. Many Republicans will see it as a betrayal.
“But it shows that both Martin McGuinness and Her Majesty are saying that the future is much more important than the past. If we get stuck in the past we will never make any progress.”
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Thursday 23 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 10 C
Wind Speed: 23 mph
Wind direction: North west
Temperature: 4 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 17 mph
Wind direction: North east