Former guests of her majesty host Queen at Belfast jail
Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness both spent time in Crumlin Road prison
Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, former guest of her majesty Queen Elizabeth in Crumlin Road jail, turned tables on the British monarch this morning by acting as her host at the same site - and this time in more liberated circumstances.
The First Minister and Deputy First Minister both served brief periods in the former old Victorian prison and were in an informed position to brief her on what it was like to do porridge when she visited the prison today.
“She could not have two more experienced guides to take her around the premises,” said Mr Robinson.
Mr Robinson spent three short periods incarcerated in Crumlin Road because of joining in protests against the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement.
Mr McGuinness spent five to six weeks there in 1976 where he was on remand facing a charge of IRA membership.
It hardly needed stating that it all served to demonstrate that Northern Ireland has come a long way in the intervening period, a point not lost on the First Minister.
Mr Robinson said he didn’t suffer unduly although sharing a cell with two fellow DUP councillors “who weren’t slight sleepers” was a bit of a burden.
He also learned that if you are going to prison for refusing to pay a fine don’t bring money with you.
“On the first occasion, having refused to pay a fine, I was picked up by the police and brought here. I should have been here for a week but after the first night they threw me out because I had money in my pockets which they took off me when I arrived and paid my fine for me and threw me out on the street,” he explained to The Irish Times.
It’s not the sort of information that Queen Elizabeth was likely to hear when meeting similar senior political leaders in Britain.
Mr Robinson wasn’t sure about the proper protocol but before he and Mr McGuinness brought Queen Elizabeth around the prison he said he was sure he might share with her some of his experiences.
This is the second day of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip’s three-day visit to the North where they are taking part in a busy schedule of events. It started today with their visit to the old prison which has been renovated and is now a popular museum attracting some 200,000 visitors each year.
Today he presented Prince Philip with a bottle of Danny Boy. Queen Elizabeth today is also visiting St George’s Market in the city centre and then heading to Belfast City Hall for a reception hosted by the new SDLP lord mayor of the city Nichola Mallon. Her visit to Belfast City Council also reflects the softening of attitudes in the city. Before and even during the peace process it was a bear pit where unionist and nationalist politicians, particularly when Sinn Féin councillors started getting elected, slugged it out relentlessly.
The controversy over the British union flag flying over City Hall reawakened some of those atavistic tendencies but today both Orange and Green councillors were prepared to set these animosities aside and unite in welcoming Queen Elizabeth to City Hall. The queen is scheduled to make a short speech at City Hall while this evening she will host a garden party at Hillsborough Castle.
Tomorrow before taking a helicopter to Coleraine for World War 1 commemorations she will briefly meet the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow team.
The roadshow is also at Hillsborough Castle on Thursday to examine and value antiques and collectables from the Northern Ireland public.