01/Sep/2014 - Last News Update: 21:00

Queen and Martin McGuinness to shake hands

Category: Northern Ireland

Published: 27th Jun 2012 03:40:29

The Queen is due to shake hands with Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, a former IRA commander, at an arts event in Belfast.

The event has been organised by charity Co-Operation Ireland, which works to bring divided communities together.

Its chief executive, Peter Sheridan, said the handshake would be hugely significant and people would realise "we are in life beyond conflict".

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh are on a two-day visit to Northern Ireland.

The royal couple have stayed at Hillsborough Castle overnight.

Also on Wednesday, 20,000 people are expected to gather at Stormont for a party to celebrate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.

The event at which the handshake will take place is being billed as one to celebrate the role of the arts in contributing to reconciliation and peace building.

But no-one should be under any illusions - the occasion has been specifically designed to meet Sinn Fein's sensitivities and to ensure that a ground-breaking encounter can take place.

The Queen doesn't give interviews and unlike other well-known public figures, she never bares her soul.

Her thoughts on meeting Martin McGuinness will be recorded in her diary, but not shared with the rest of us.

The Troubles in Northern Ireland took their toll on her, as they did on many others.

The IRA murdered her cousin, Lord Mountbatten. Afterwards, her sister was reported to have told someone in America "the Irish are pigs". Buckingham Palace came to the late Princess Margaret's aid, insisting she'd actually said "the Irish dance jigs".

Irrespective of any personal feelings, the Queen and her advisers know it would have been untenable for the UK's head of state to snub an elected politician.

Last year in Dublin she spoke of the importance of being able "to bow to the past, but not be bound by it".

The Queen's initial meeting with Mr McGuinness will be in private.

However, the cameras will roll as the Queen, Prince Philip, the Irish president and the first and deputy first ministers of Northern Ireland look at paintings and meet leading local artists.

Those present are expected to include the pianist Barry Douglas, poet Michael Longley and actors Adrian Dunbar and Conleth Hill.

Former senior police officer Mr Sheridan said of the handshake on Tuesday: "The very fact that it's happening says a lot, not just about healing and reconciliation, but also about a coming together.

"I think at the end of tomorrow all of us will have realised that things have changed and that we are in life beyond conflict."

It is being stressed the arts event has a cross-border dimension and is not part of the Jubilee celebrations.

That is in contrast to the huge party planned for Stormont, which is a celebration of the Queen's 60-year reign organised by the Northern Ireland Office.

On Tuesday, the Queen met relatives of the victims of an IRA bombing in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, 25 years ago.

The royal couple also attended a service of thanksgiving at St Macartin's Cathedral in Enniskillen, to mark her 60-year reign, before meeting about 100 people at St Michael's Catholic Church in the town - believed to be the first time the Queen has visited a Catholic church in Ireland.

The Queen also visited the new South West Acute Hospital.

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BBC News, 2012. Queen and Martin McGuinness to shake hands [Online] (Updated 27th Jun 2012)
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