McGuinness yet to respond to state banquet invitation

Deputy First Minister expected to attend Windsor Castle following 2012 meeting with monarch in Belfast

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has yet to respond to an invitation to attend the state banquet in honour of President Michael D Higgins’s visit to Britain on Tuesday.

The dinner, hosted by Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle, will be attended by First Minister Peter Robinson, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore.

Officials at the Northern Ireland Office and the Foreign Office say they do not comment on the attendance lists for state functions, a practice also followed by Buckingham Palace.

However, The Irish Times has confirmed Mr McGuinness, a former IRA leader, did receive an invitation from the palace. The final decision on the guest list for the State dinner was taken by the queen.


Another source has told this newspaper there is “no rush at the minute” in relation to consideration of invitations from the queen to the dinner.

"The process is ongoing," the source said, and decisions on attendance could be communicated to Buckingham Palace until "quite close to the event itself".

'Suits pressed'
A trusted Belfast source told The Irish Times this week in relation to invitations to both Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness that "two suits are pressed and ready" for the historic banquet. The same source said it was still unclear what would happen in relation to Mr McGuinness's attendance and offered the opinion that Sinn Féin stood to lose more by not attending than by accepting the invitation.

Mr McGuinness and others in the Sinn Féin leadership did not involve themselves in the queen’s state visit to the Republic nearly three years ago.

However Mr McGuinness met and shook hands with the British monarch during her subsequent visit to Belfast just over a year later in June 2012. That visit was part of the queen’s diamond jubilee celebrations.

Mr McGuinness, standing alongside Mr Robinson, shook hands with the queen while she visited the newly redeveloped Lyric theatre in Belfast. The pair also shook hands at a private meeting in a room at the theatre which involved seven people including President Higgins.

Mr McGuinness addressed the queen in both Irish and English and said their meeting was a “powerful signal that peace-building requires leadership”.

That meeting was of particular personal importance for the queen, given the killing by the IRA of Lord Mountbatten at Mullaghmore, Co Sligo in August 1979. The explosion which killed him also claimed the lives of his son-in-law's mother, Lady Brabourne; his grandson, Nicholas (14); and a 15-year-old local boy, Paul Maxwell.

'Journey of relationship'
Mr McGuinness's attendance at the state dinner in the Waterloo Chamber at Windsor would be in keeping with those sentiments.

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams said of the meeting between the queen and Mr McGuinness: "It brings our journey of relationship building within this island and between these islands onto a new plane."