Decision on photograph of historic handshake due today


A DECISION on whether to release a photograph of the historic handshake to take place between Martin McGuinness and Queen Elizabeth is likely to be announced today.

A Buckingham Palace spokeswoman said the issue would be clarified on “Monday afternoon, or Tuesday at the latest”. Sinn Féin said a photograph would almost definitely be released. Party leader Gerry Adams told media outlets he had “no objection” to an image being circulated.

A party spokesman yesterday said it was the party’s “understanding” an image of the handshake – due to take place this Wednesday at a charity event in Belfast – would be made available.

“This is standard procedure with Buckingham Palace,” he said. “They are masters at stage-managing this kind of event. But it’s not really in our gift to say, as this is an event involving two sovereign heads of state [the queen and the Irish President], and it’s their decision. At the end of the day, it’s a public event and there will be media present.”

Addressing Sinn Féin members in Belfast yesterday, Mr Adams said the decision to accept the invitation to meet the queen would “cause genuine and understandable difficulties for some people, not least some of the victims of the British crown forces in Ireland.

“It is clear that legacy issues have to be dealt with, and Sinn Féin will continue to engage in that work.” Irish society had to be changed, North and South, to “accommodate the unionist population and their cultural identity.

“The meeting between Martin McGuinness and the queen will assist in that process of change.”

Earlier yesterday, Mr Adams said he had no issue with a photograph of the planned handshake being released. Speaking on the BBC’s Sunday Politics, he said: “We’re doing this as proud republicans, we’re confident, we’re modern in our vision. It’s a very, very significant step . . . so, of course we have no objection to a photo being released.”

Reports last week – some of which came from Sinn Féin sources – suggested no photographer would be allowed to capture the moment when Mr McGuinness and the queen come face to face, although it has been generally accepted a group photograph, taken by a Buckingham Palace photographer, would be released. As of last night, no regular media had been invited to the event at the Lyric Theatre.

A spokeswoman for Co-operation Ireland – which is hosting the event – yesterday said she was “not yet in a position” to confirm whether there would be a photographer present.

The lack of clarity over arrangements underlines the sensitivity of the moment when the alleged former head of the IRA and the British monarch – officially the head of the British armed forces – make eye contact, take each other’s hand and, presumably, exchange pleasantries. In the past, Sinn Féin has boycotted royal visits and the IRA has targeted members of the British royal family, most notably Lord Louis Mountbatten, who was murdered off the coast of Co Sligo in 1979.

Both the queen and President Michael D Higgins are patrons of Co-operation Ireland. The President will also be in attendance on Wednesday, as will the North’s First Minister, Peter Robinson.