Profile: Martin McGuiness
Martin McGuinness will not be the first Sinn Fein member to shake hands with the Queen. Last May, Michael Browne, mayor of the Tipperary town of Cashel, broke party ranks to meet the Queen as she visited the Rock of Cashel during her historic visit to Ireland.
But the announcement that the deputy first minister of Northern Ireland will meet the Queen, in Belfast on Wednesday, is of a very different hue. McGuinness, a self-confessed IRA man, is a leading figure in Sinn Fein and one of the most recognisable protagonists of the protracted Troubles. The IRA killed the Queen’s cousin, Lord Mountbatten, in 1979.
Speaking in Dublin yesterday after a meeting of the Sinn Fein Ard Chomhairle to discuss the issue, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams described the decision as “the right thing to do”. In many respects, it was the only thing the republicans could do.
Fourteen years on from the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, Sinn Fein are safely esconced in government at Stormont. They have ended their war with the state.
Meeting the Queen is simply the latest – and possibly the last – in a long line of symbolic moves by the republican leadership, often made with one eye on the electorate south of the border.
Adams, now a member of the Irish Dail, said that the decision to meet the Queen “will cause difficulty” for some republicans. Doubtless dissidents will jump on the announcement as yet another example of Sinn Fein’s “betrayal” of republican dogma.
Sinn Fein rarely make concessions without taking internal soundings beforehand, and this latest announcement is no exception. Although Ard Chomhairle’s decision was not a unanimous one, there is no real prospect of large-scale defections in its wake. Nor is there any likelihood of Sinn Fein ending their policy of abstention at Westminster in the foreseeable future.
The symbolism of next week’s meeting, which it is rumoured will take place in the Lyric Theatre in south Belfast, is ineluctable. The Queen, Martin McGuinness, DUP leader Peter Robinson and Irish President Michael D Higgins is a photocall unimaginable 15 years ago.
Yet serious questions about Northern Ireland’s past – and its future – remain. Peace has not brought prosperity for all, and reconciliation is still a difficult word for many politicians. If a handshake between the Queen and Martin McGuinness can help change that, it will be truly historic.
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
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