Queen Elizabeth has been praised for her contribution to the Northern peace process as celebrations are taking place to mark 70 years on the British throne.
In a letter to the queen last month, reported by the Belfast Telegraph on Thursday, Sinn Féin vice president Michelle O’Neill acknowledged the monarch’s “significant contribution” to the “advancement of peace and reconciliation”, while Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis praised the queen’s “proactive role” in the peace process.
A 42-gun salute was fired from Hillsborough Castle, the queen’s official residence in Northern Ireland, on Thursday to mark the opening of the four-day platinum jubilee celebrations.
Jubilee beacons will be lit in a number of locations across Northern Ireland at dusk on Thursday, and events including street parties, exhibitions and church services are scheduled across the bank holiday weekend to mark the occasion.
Speaking at Hillsborough Castle, Mr Lewis said Thursday marked “the start of four days of celebration of one of the most amazing women that we have seen in public service around the world”. He said a platinum jubilee was “not something that happens very often” and it was an opportunity for people “across all communities across the UK to come together, to spend time together and to celebrate an amazing lady”.
Mr Lewis praised the queen’s “proactive” interest in Northern Ireland and her role in the peace process, describing it as “something we can all be very proud of, having somebody as our queen who has been through that process with us and been steadfast in doing so as well”.
In her letter to the queen, Ms O’Neill wrote that the jubilee was “an historic moment, especially for all those from the unionist and British tradition on the island of Ireland, and across these islands whom with great pride and devotion hold you very dear”.
“Personally, I wish to thank you for your warmth and unfailing courtesy on the occasions in which both I and my late colleague, Martin McGuinness, met with you in Belfast in 2012 during your diamond jubilee, and thereafter at Windsor Castle during the State visit of President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins to the UK in 2014,” she wrote.
“I wish to record the value and respect I place on the significant contribution you have made to the advancement of peace and reconciliation between the different traditions on our island, and between our two islands during those years of the peace process.
“As incoming First Minister of the Northern Ireland Executive I, like you, will take every opportunity to strengthen the bonds of friendship and renew the spirit of co-operation between those of us in the world of politics and public life from different traditions, and also the people and communities we proudly represent,” Ms O’Neill said.
‘So much service’
Former Northern Ireland first minister Arlene Foster – who was made a dame in the queen’s birthday honours list on Wednesday – told the BBC that she welcomed Ms O’Neill’s gesture. She said the platinum jubilee was a celebration of the queen’s public service and dedication, the institution of the monarchy and the concept of Britishness.
“I think for republicans, like Michelle O’Neill, like Nicola Sturgeon, they have recognised in Her Majesty the Queen the first of those, the fact that she has given so much service to the country.”
Meanwhile, President Michael D Higgins has extended “warm greetings” to the queen on the occasion of her platinum jubilee. In a letter sent to mark her official birthday, Mr Higgins said he extended the greetings on “behalf of the people of Ireland and on my own behalf”.
He made reference to the warm welcome he and his wife Sabina received during his first State visit to Britain in 2014.
The President also paid tribute to the queen following his speech at the Bloom festival in Dublin’s Phoenix Park. He described the monarch as a “very gracious lady who has made a very significant contribution over the last 70 years”.