Queen on two-day visit to North
A scheduled meeting and handshake with Queen Elizabeth in Belfast tomorrow would be an opportunity “to propel the peace process forward to a new unprecedented level”, Sinn Féin deputy first minister Martin McGuinness said at Stormont yesterday.
The queen arrived in Northern Ireland today for the beginning of her two-day diamond jubilee visit. Her arrival in Northern Ireland was briefly delayed by bad weather and her flight was diverted from Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, to Belfast International Airport.
The attended a service of thanksgiving at St Macartin’s Cathedral in Enniskillen, near the scene of an IRA bomb attack during a Remembrance Day service in November 1987.
The queen met relatives of some of the victims of the attack after the ecumenical service, which was attended by senior clerics from several denominations, including the Catholic Primate of All-Ireland, Cardinal Seán Brady.
Hundreds of people lined the streets of Enniskillen to greet the queen and the Duke of Edinburgh as they made their way to the cathedral in a chauffeur-driven car.
Last night, Mr McGuinness said he hoped a handshake photograph of him and the British monarch would be released to the press.
Senior sources said on Friday, when the meeting was announced, that no photograph of the planned handshake would be released, but Mr McGuinness’s comments have made publication of such a picture much more likely.
“My hope is that there will be a photograph, absolutely, I don’t have any difficulty with that at all,” he told The Irish Times yesterday evening.
“Once I decide to do something I don’t hide behind doors, I don’t seek secrecy for anything I do. I and the people I represent have the confidence to step out front and be upfront about our actions and how we believe those actions can contribute to making the place we live in a far, far better place than it is at the moment,” he said.
“This is me stepping up to the plate, this is me moving forward to be involved in an event which I hope sends a very clear signal to people about the importance of reconciliation, and the importance of us working together to ensure that the disasters of the past are not visited on the children of the future,” he added.
Mr McGuinness indicated he was quite conscious that Lord Louis Mountbatten, murdered by the IRA in 1979, was an uncle of Queen Elizabeth’s husband, Prince Philip, who will also attend the Co-operation Ireland arts event in Belfast tomorrow.
He said, however, that he had no plans to make reference to that IRA attack during his conversation with Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip.
However, he added: “I represent people who have been terribly hurt by British state violence over many years. I also recognise I am going to meet someone who has also been hurt as a result of the conflict, and someone who is very conscious that in many homes in Britain there are parents, wives, children, brothers and sisters of British soldiers who were sent here who lost their lives in the conflict.”
He had not decided how he would address Queen Elizabeth but made clear it was unlikely to be “Your majesty”.
“These are not the sort of terms I use when I speak to people,” he said, adding that “grandiose” titles did not “sit easily” with him.
He hoped the meeting would symbolically demonstrate to unionists that they were valued and respected and to give them a “glimpse of what a reunited Ireland would look like”.
Mr McGuinness also responded to Lagan Valley DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson, who characterised his decision to meet Queen Elizabeth as recognising her as head of state. “Jeffrey, fond and all of him as I am, does not speak for me. I am not a royalist. I am not a monarchist, I am an Irish republican . . . the person I recognise as the head of state is President Higgins,” he said.