President says handshake 'removes an obstacle'
REACTION:PRESIDENT Michael D Higgins said the handshake between Queen Elizabeth and Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness had served to “remove an obstacle” in the continuing development of the peace process.
President Higgins welcomed the symbolic gesture and described it as a significant act.
“I think the significance of it was that, if you like, it recognises that the formal peace process, as it exists on paper, isn’t a finished project but a process that has to go with North South [Ministerial] Council meetings that are positive and valuable,” he told RTÉ.
Responding to suggestions that Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister should first reconcile with victims of the IRA and recognise their feelings, Mr Higgins said: “In my own speeches before I became president, and indeed since, I’ve said no one can suggest to those who have been the victims of violence that they should affect some kind of amnesia. It is very important that the work of reconciliation and the work of recognition, if you like, take into account [those] feelings.”
Mr Higgins said his meeting with the queen and Prince Philip lasted almost twice as long as had been anticipated.
In Dublin, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said the handshake brought the journey of reconciliation in Ireland on to a new plane.
“I think the significance is in how much we can build upon it. I think the vast majority of unionists will be pleased that this happened because they think it’s a real gesture beyond the rhetoric,” he said.
Mr Adams said the party’s head office had spent the day reassuring republicans as the images had emerged. “These are all steps on a journey. The journey is not completed. Why is today different from the visit [to the Republic last year]? I made the point not least because what happened here was a normalisation of relations between this State and the British monarchy. “In the North it’s a different matter entirely, the island is still partitioned.”
Mr Adams said there was a need for a truth commission overseen by a body of international repute. He rejected the proposition that the party was hypocritical in agreeing to a handshake only a year after organising protests and prohibiting the mayor of Cashel from meeting the queen (The Sinn Féin mayor, Michael Browne, who was dying at the time, defied the party and shook hands with the queen).
“The party of Sinn Féin represents people right across this island. My brother-in-law was killed by the British army . . . I was shot myself,” he said.
“You can, of course, do something positive. A party like ours has to be mindful of all the people and all of the hurt and all of the potential to cause hurt.”