McAleese feared peace process ‘would crumble’

Former president tells Edinburgh society how her husband stopped loyalist retaliating

Former President Mary McAleese with her husband Dr Martin McAleese Photograph: Frank Miller

Former President Mary McAleese with her husband Dr Martin McAleese Photograph: Frank Miller

Thu, Dec 19, 2013, 08:35

Former president of Ireland Mary McAleese has revealed how her husband, Martin, spent two days in 2009 persuading Loyalist paramilitaries not to retaliate for the killings of two British soldiers.

Speaking in Edinburgh this week, Mrs McAleese said there had been fears the peace process “would crumble” in the wake of the Massarene Barracks killings by dissident Republicans.

“Martin spent 48 hours on the hour talking to every Loyalist paramilitary that he knew,” she told the Royal Edinburgh Society. The then serving secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Shaun Woodward, “rang the following day to say thank you. The chief constable did so later,” she said.

Audio: Former president Mary McAleese on peace process

During a 90-minute interview, Mrs McAleese said: “There are people who because of their position can talk to people and there are people who can’t.”

The peace process is not something that will last years, but rather will take decades, she told the Edinburgh audience. “I won’t live to see the end of this process. It has been centuries in the incubation and the toxic spores of history have a very, very long shelflife. We are still talking Reformation politics.”

Repeatedly, she spoke with fondness of Queen Elizabeth II, revealing how she had made clear she would not curtsey to the monarch at their first meeting two years before she became president.

Then, Mrs McAleese was to introduce colleagues from Queen’s University, Belfast, in 1995 during a London ceremony to mark the foundation of Ireland’s main colleges during Queen Victoria’s reign. “I was rather worried about the protocol because I was afraid that it was expected of me that I would genuflect, bow to Her Majesty, the queen, curtsey.

‘I don’t curtesy’
“I don’t do that. I don’t kiss bishops’ rings, I don’t curtsey to popes and I don’t curtsey to monarchs. It is part and parcel of the make-up, the strong egalitarian sense that runs through me.

“On the other hand, I have great admiration for her and I would not have wished in any shape or form to embarrass her or indeed my university,” she told the Scottish audience on Monday night.

She said she went to see the master of the queen’s household, saying that “if this causes embarrassment we should get somebody else to do it”.

“He said, “Ah, curtsey, don’t curtsey, it has gone out of fashion, do whatever you like, they all do anyway, she’s a professional, it won’t bother her. Do whatever you like.” Shortly afterwards, she received an invitation to lunch with the queen “during which I was amazed to discover the great interest and the great depth of knowledge she had about Ireland”.

“She disclosed to me what a heartbreak it was to her that because of the political circumstances she could not visit Dublin, or [the Republic].”

Two years later, Queen Elizabeth wrote to congratulate her on her election, reminding her of the conversation they had had about relations between the two countries.

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