McGuinness hints at Queen meeting

Fri, Apr 27, 2012, 01:00

Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness has given his clearest signal to date that he is willing to meet Britain's Queen Elizabeth II.

At a Dublin conference to mark the success of the peace process, the Northern Ireland deputy first minister said he would not be found wanting when compromises need to be made.

Mr McGuinness, who recently said he would not rule out meeting the Queen as part of efforts to build bridges with unionists, challenged his own community to foster reconciliation.

In response to questions on whether this would stretch to a royal meeting as the monarch celebrates her Jubilee year, Mr McGuinness pointed to his track record.

“It’s making clear that the enormous progress that’s been made in recent times has been made because politicians have been prepared to compromise,” he said.

“Compromise to me in the peace process is never a dirty word. There are big challenges ahead for all of us. Not just for me, but others in the process. We all have to be big enough to rise to these challenges. Am I big enough to rise to these challenges? Absolutely. My track record shows that’s the case.”

The Queen is expected to visit Northern Ireland as she marks her Jubilee year.

There is also speculation that she will be invited to open the new £90 million Giant’s Causeway visitor centre on the north coast of Antrim in the summer.

The Dublin conference was attended by a string of high-profile figures linked to the search for peace and the signing of the 1998 Belfast Agreement, and included first minister Peter Robinson, who urged his colleague in the Stormont Executive to take the leap and meet the Queen.

“I think it would be a step that should be taken. I made the gesture of meeting the head of state here in the Irish Republic. Meeting the President of the Irish Republic is now something that people would take in their stride in Northern Ireland,” Mr Robinson said.

“If he meets Her Majesty it would become the norm. Meeting members of the royal family would become part of everyday political life.”

Mr McGuinness raised the theme of reconciliation as he joined Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore and the first minister in the Royal Hospital Kilmainham to examine the experiences of the peace process. He said his references to reconciliation and compromise were about engendering trust in communities and showing how far the political situation in the north has moved.

The event, organised to mark Ireland’s chairmanship of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, was also attended by US Senator George Mitchell and Martti Ahtisaari, former Finnish president who helped oversee decommissioning. The aim was to use Northern Ireland as a case study to encourage others engaged in efforts to resolve conflicts elsewhere.

Later, Mr McGuinness said he and Mr Robinson were now standing on the same side. “We were the people who were resisting the actions of those small under-represented groups who tried to destroy the peace process,” he added.

“Those individuals from the extremes of unionism who were also trying to be in some way destabilising everything we’ve built up. The fact we were cast together is a good thing. I think people want to see us continuing working on their behalf.”

Others attendees included David Ford, Minister of Justice in the Northern Ireland Executive, Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan and PSNI deputy chief constable Judith Gillespie.

PA