Drama of McGuinness and queen to be staged in private


SINN FÉIN MEETING:A “STERILE” zone is to be created around the Lyric Theatre in south Belfast this morning to prevent the press and public having any close access to the building where Queen Elizabeth and Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness are to meet face to face for the first time.

Also in attendance at the reception will be President Michael D Higgins, who with Queen Elizabeth is patron of Co-operation Ireland, organisers of the reception.

Discussions were continuing last night about what images would be released from the event.

It seemed likely last night that the only media people permitted to record the event would be Peter Wilkinson, the Buckingham Palace cameraman, and Paul Faith, the Press Association’s photographer in Northern Ireland.

Spokespeople for Buckingham Palace and the Northern Ireland Office could not be specific about the press arrangements for the Lyric Theatre today.

Mr McGuinness has already stated that he wants a photograph of the handshake to be published, adding that he did not “seek secrecy” in anything he did while a Sinn Féin spokesman said yesterday that the issue of photographs and media access was a matter for Buckingham Palace.

Whatever about any initial misgivings, it was clear last night that Sinn Féin intends to make a “virtue out of necessity” and play the encounter to its advantage as far as possible. Mr McGuinness is to speak at Westminster tomorrow night on what Sinn Féin has billed as a “keynote address on future British-Irish relations”.

About 50 guests mostly representative of the Northern Ireland arts world, including the poet Michael Longley, pianist Barry Douglas, actors Adrian Dunbar and Conleth Hill, painter Colin Davidson and singer Brian Kennedy, are due to attend the reception. They have been asked to be at the theatre by 9am.

“This event aims to highlight how the arts have contributed to reconciliation and peace-building on the island of Ireland,” said former senior PSNI officer Peter Sheridan, who is chief executive of Co-operation Ireland.

Meanwhile, some unionist politicians have condemned the erection of a large sign on Black Mountain overlooking Belfast which has an Irish Tricolour underneath, and stating “Eriu is our Queen”, a reference to the mythological goddess of Ireland.

DUP North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds said the sign was indicative of a “small group of republicans [who] cannot respect the views of the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland”.