McGuinness criticises Tebbit hope that he might be shot

North’s Deputy First Minister says he visited Windsor as ‘unapologetic Irish republican’

Martin McGuinness, Deputy First Minister Northern Ireland, said the queen has been willing to show “impressive leadership” in the area of conflict resolution. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Martin McGuinness, Deputy First Minister Northern Ireland, said the queen has been willing to show “impressive leadership” in the area of conflict resolution. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Wed, Apr 9, 2014, 14:39

Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has criticised Lord Tebbit for saying he hopes the former IRA commander is shot in the back for attending a State banquet at the invitation of Queen Elizabeth II last night.

Mr McGuinness said the reaction of the former Conservative chairman to his historic visit to the queen’s official residence and private home at Windsor was “not fitting” for someone who holds high political office.

Norman Tebbit and his family have been very badly hurt by the conflict,” he said.

“I absolutely understand that. Obviously the sentiments that he has expressed, I think, are not fitting for someone in the elected position he has been in for a very long time.”

Lord Tebbit was injured along with his wife during the 1984 IRA bombing of the Grand Hotel in Brighton, which targeted the Conservative Party conference.

Mr McGuinness told the Sean O’Rourke programme on RTÉ Radio One he would not be drawn into a row over the comments.

“I’m not going to make an issue of it,” he said. “Other people have certainly raised it with me, and some people have advocated that I should make an issue of it - I don’t intend to do so.”

Lord Tebbit said the Queen had no choice about Mr McGuinness attending the State banquet at Windsor Castle last night in honour of the visit of Irish President Michael D Higgins - the first time an Irish head of state has been officially invited to Britain.

Lord Tebbit said: “There’s always the possibility that a member of the Real IRA will be so outraged by Mr McGuinness bowing to the Queen that they might shoot him in the back for it. “We can but hope.”

Mr McGuinness said he had no qualms about standing and joining in a toast to the queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and the people of the UK as an orchestra played God Save The Queen during the dinner.

Mr McGuinness said he believed he had the “overwhelming support of the people of Ireland” when he joined in the toast to the queen, which followed a similar toasting of President Michael D Higgins.

Mr McGuinness said the queen had been willing to show “impressive leadership” in the area of conflict resolution.

“I think that was the proper thing to do,” said Mr McGuinness. “I went to Windsor castle last night as an unapologetic Irish republican and I’m still an unapologetic Irish republican this morning.”

“So I think it is possible to do these things, particularly in the context of a very clear indicator that others - such as Queen Elizabeth in her visit to our country, both to Belfast and to the south - were prepared to show impressive leadership in the context of conflict resolution and acts of reconciliation.”

Mr McGuinness said he understood the pain of people affected by the Troubles and defended their right to protest at his attendance.

“I understand that people are hurting as a result of the fall-out from the conflict and many in my community - in the republican, nationalist community - are also hurting as a result of the conflict,” he said. “Different sections of that community come to this at different speeds.”

Mr McGuinness said he intended to continue to work for peace and conflict resolution as part of the Northern Irish reconciliation process.

“I have been given a very important job to do on behalf not just of the people of the North who elect me but I believe the overwhelming majority of the people of Ireland to ensure that the peace process continues to move forward.”

Having spoken to British prime minister David Cameron at last night’s event, he said the British government still had a “huge responsibility” in moving the peace process forward.

“I think it’s vitally important that he [David Cameron] has the same hands on approach to resolving the outstanding issue as had the previous Labour administration,” said Mr McGuinness.

Additional reporting: PA