Sinn Féin's vice-president Michelle O'Neill has praised the contribution of the British royal family to peace and reconciliation during a Stormont debate following the death of Prince Philip.
A special sitting of the Assembly was convened on Monday to allow MLAs the opportunity to pay tribute to the Duke of Edinburgh, who died on Friday aged 99.
The Deputy First Minister said that over the past two decades there had been “significant interventions by the British royal family to assist in the building of relationships between Britain and Ireland” and it was “appropriate this contribution to the advancement of peace and reconciliation is rightly recognised”.
The First Minister, Arlene Foster, said she welcomed that Ms O'Neill had "moved to show respect to the royal family and the nation as a whole" as well as the "respectful way" the Speaker and parties in Northern Ireland had responded to Prince Philip's death.
“I think the unity of spirit has been evident so let us all harness and channel that spirit moving ahead as the Assembly and Executive work through the very real and significant challenges that face us,” she said.
Ms O'Neill also acknowledged that Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip and their family had been "directly impacted by the conflict, and regrettably endured sorrow and pain as a result of their personal loss and their bereavement".
Prince Philip's uncle Lord Louis Mountbatten was killed by the IRA in 1979 when it detonated a bomb on board his boat off the coast of Mullaghmore, Co Sligo. Also killed was Mountbatten's 14-year-old grandson, Nicholas Knatchbull, the boy's grandmother, Lady Doreen Brabourne, and Paul Maxwell, a 15-year-old boat boy from Enniskillen.
“Having endured such personal loss,” Ms O’Neill said, “the royal family set about working towards advancing peace and reconciliation and I have been witness to these efforts and their example of leadership myself in recent years.”
The meeting between former IRA leader and then Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, and the Queen and Prince Philip in 2012 marked, she said, “a very important step on our journey to reconciliation on this island and between our islands”.
Ms O’Neill extended her “sincere condolences” to Queen Elizabeth and her family, saying she acknowledged the “sense of loss” felt by those of a unionist tradition and a British identity and who “value and cherish” the royal family.
“As the Queen and Prince Philip did so, we in this chamber, 23 years on from the Good Friday Agreement, must redouble our own efforts to achieve reconciliation,” she said.
The Ulster Unionist Party leader, Steve Aiken, acknowledged the remarks by Ms O'Neill and those of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), saying he wished to thank them for their recognition of the sense of loss felt at Prince Philip's passing.
“May I state how welcome your remarks were, and whilst we may disagree on much, those are welcome sentiments. I appreciate your sympathy and reaching out to those of us who hold the union and the monarchy dear.”
The SDLP deputy leader, Nichola Mallon, said she had welcomed the Queen and Prince Philip to Belfast in her role as lord mayor in 2014 and remembered the lunch she hosted for them in Belfast City Hall as a "friendly, warm and very memorable" occasion.
“It would be remiss of us to fail to acknowledge that Prince Philip and his family were deeply affected by the conflict on this island and between these islands,” she said.
“We should also reflect on the role that he played alongside Queen Elizabeth in building relationships, setting aside enmity and promoting reconciliation.”
First Minister of Northern Ireland and Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster said Prince Philip had been taken under the care of Lord Mountbatten as a child, "someone who he was robbed of, of course, in later life by a PIRA bomb".
She said he had been the queen’s “bedrock”, a role he carried with “dedication, humanity and humour – sometimes blunt humour, which we got to appreciate here on his many occasions when he visited Northern Ireland”.
Alliance Party leader, Naomi Long, said Prince Philip's was a "long life well lived" and she prayed that the years of happy memories would bring some comfort to the queen and to the wider family circle.