McGuinness says decision to attend queen’s banquet of ‘tremendous significance’

Queen Elizabeth a ‘staunch supporter of peace process’, adds Deputy First Minister

Martin McGuinness shakes hands with Queen Elizabeth  in Belfast in 2012. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA

Martin McGuinness shakes hands with Queen Elizabeth in Belfast in 2012. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA

Mon, Apr 7, 2014, 01:01

Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has described his decision to attend a banquet for President Michael D Higgins hosted by Queen Elizabeth as of “tremendous significance”.

After considerable deliberation, Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams announced on Saturday that Mr McGuinness would attend the banquet at Windsor Castle tomorrow night, which also will be attended by First Minister Peter Robinson. “This decision by a confident republican leadership is in keeping with the transition that is ongoing within the island of Ireland and between Ireland, including the North, and Britain,” Mr Adams said.

“There is now a peaceful and democratic way to end the union and Partition. This is a work in progress and Sinn Féin accepts there is an onus on us to persuade our unionist neighbours that their interests are best served in a new, agreed Ireland,” he added.

Mr McGuinness said yesterday he was “conscious that this decision is significant and involves political and symbolic challenges for Irish republicans”. “However, my presence alongside Peter Robinson brings an all-island dimension to this historic event which, it is worth noting, has taken 93 years to happen,” he added.

He said the decision was taken after widespread discussion with the broad Sinn Féin movement. He also told RTÉ’s This Week programme yesterday that the party’s officer board unanimously endorsed the decision. He said some republicans were nervous about the move and there was opposition from a minority, but all recognised he had a “duty and responsibility to represent all of the people”.

Mr McGuinness described Queen Elizabeth as a woman who had shown “leadership” in terms of achieving reconciliation and was a “staunch supporter” of the peace process.

“As the record of the peace process demonstrates, Irish republicans have always been prepared to take decisions and risks for peace and reconciliation,” he added. “I am an Irish republican. A united Ireland has been, and continues to be, the primary objective of my political life. I want to see an end to Partition and unity of the Irish people through a genuine process of reconciliation based on equality and tolerance.

“I want an Ireland in which one can be British or Irish and live in harmony and mutual respect with their neighbours,” he said. “There is now a peaceful and democratic way to achieve this.”

Taoiseach Enda Kenny welcomed Sinn Féin’s decision. “Martin McGuinness, as Deputy First Minister in the Assembly in Northern Ireland, has been very forthright and pragmatic in what he has been doing here,” he said on BBC’s Andrew Marr Show yesterday.

“I don’t see why he shouldn’t attend. This is all part of the building of relationships between the two countries and peoples on both sides of the divide. We’ve got to move on and not be blocked by the past,” Mr Kenny added.