DEBATES about whether or not the handshake between Martin McGuinness and the Queen will be photographed miss the point.
As with the IRA arms decommissioning in the mid-2000s, what is really significant is that this historic event is taking place at all.
The meeting will be a carefully choreographed reception hosted by Co-operation Ireland, a charity dedicated to peace and reconciliation on the island of Ireland. McGuinness certainly sees the encounter, the first between a Sinn Fein representative in Northern Ireland and the monarch, as part of a new, more encompassing approach to reconciliation.
McGuinness is mindful of the symbolism of the handshake for Northern Irish unionists, many of whom feel that republicans have profited most from the peace process. Earlier this week, the Sinn Fein candidate in the 2011 Irish presidential election told the BBC that “when shaking the hand of Queen Elizabeth, I’m extending the hand of peace and reconciliation to all my unionist brothers and sisters”.
The decision to have tea with the Queen is not motivated solely by an altruistic desire to heal the wounds that still exist.
Last year’s boycott of the very successful royal visit to the republic played badly in middle-class constituencies in which Sinn Fein hopes to make electoral gains in the south.
Reaching out to the Queen this time will, Sinn Fein hopes, cement its journey from the wilderness to the heart of government – perhaps, one day, on both sides of the border.