Queen's speech in Dublin catalyst for change - Adams

Sat, Jun 23, 2012, 01:00

SINN FÉIN’S decision to give the go-ahead to Northern Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness to shake hands with Queen Elizabeth II was described by party leader Gerry Adams as “the right decision at the right time and for the right reasons”.

Mr Adams convened a press conference at the party’s offices in Dublin yesterday shortly after its ruling ardchomhairle decided by a clear majority to give the go-ahead for a historic and symbolic meeting.

He indicated that the context had changed since last year when Sinn Féin organised protests against the queen’s visit to the State, and also instructed the Sinn Féin mayor of Cashel not to greet the queen during her visit to the town. The mayor Michael Browne, who was terminally ill, defied the instruction.

Several times during the course of the conference, Mr Adams referred to the queen’s speech in Dublin Castle last year in terms of being a significant catalyst for change.

He also disclosed that the decision of the 40-strong ardchomhairle had not been unanimous but that the majority had been clear. He would not give the precise outcome.

He said the invitation had come from Co-operation Ireland to attend the event in Belfast and that President Michael D Higgins and the North’s First Minister Peter Robinson would also attend.

“As this means that Martin McGuinness will meet the monarch, the Queen of England, this will be very difficult for nationalists and republicans, especially those folks who have suffered at the hands of British forces in Ireland over many decades.”

Mr Adams said the decision had been taken in the interests of conflict resolution and national reconciliation. He said it would impose major symbolic and political challenges for the party.

“Irish republicans have been prepared to take bold initiatives for peace and to break stalemates in the interests of peace,” he said.

He said while unification remained the party’s prime objective there was a new dispensation in which a citizen could be Irish or unionist and be comfortable on this island.

He said a “confident dynamic forward-looking Sinn Féin [had] a genuine desire to embrace our unionist neighbours. I understand full well that this decision will be very difficult for people, especially victims of British crown forces. They will have genuine and understandable difficulties. It’s very clear that these legacy issues will have to be dealt with.”

Asked would it require similar generosity by the queen, given that the IRA had killed Lord Mountbatten by planting a bomb on his yacht at Mullaghmore, Co Sligo, Mr Adams acknowledged it would.

When it was put to him that Sinn Féin had organised protests against the queen’s visit last year, and also instructed the mayor of Cashel not to welcome her, he said that last year’s visit was a British royal visit to the State, allowing for a normalisation of relations.

“This is a different matter. This is us on terms which are acceptable to us trying to reach out to others whose opinions differ from us in their sense of identity . . . It is also part of the necessary healing process.”

Mr Adams dismissed the suggestion that it was a final abandonment by Sinn Féin of its republican principles.

Some republican groups have denounced Sinn Féin’s decision. Breandan Mac Cionnaith of the Éirígí group said that the decision demonstrated that the Sinn Féin leadership had signed up to the “copperfastening of partition”.

Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister said he sympathised with Queen Elizabeth. “Across the world she has had to meet many despots. This time it’s McGuinness,” he said.

Other historic encounters

JANUARY 1965The Fianna Fáil taoiseach and Old IRA man Seán Lemass travelled North to meet the unionist prime minister Terence O’Neill. The meeting was held at Stormont House amid great secrecy, and while the talk was of economic co-operation the hope was that it would lead to a North-South thaw and more cordial relations. Hostile unionists such as Ian Paisley and a looming conflict put paid to that hope.

JUNE 1993President Mary Robinson shook hands with Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams in west Belfast in June 1993 at a time when the IRA was still engaging in killing, bombing, robberies and so-called punishment attacks, and 14 months before the first IRA ceasefire at the end of August 1994. That meeting triggered great controversy and antagonism, particularly from unionists, but it was a significant moment, happening shortly after word of the Hume-Adams negotiations were disclosed and some months ahead of the Downing Street Declaration – two pivotal developments that helped kick-start the peace process. MARCH 2007 Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams, wearing his Easter Lily badge, sat at the apex of a table at Stormont to demonstrate clearly, and somewhat astonishingly, that they and the DUP and Sinn Féin were about to share power. It was one of the big moments in British-Irish history when all the key political players were finally singing from the powersharing hymn sheet.

MAY 2007-JUNE 2008Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness come together as first minister and deputy first minister. In the 13 months before Dr Paisley handed over the first minister post to Peter Robinson the two leaders, again astonishingly, proved they could work harmoniously and cheerfully together – doing their job so well that they became known as the Chuckle Brothers.