Queen Elizabeth and Sinn Féin deputy leader Martin McGuinness exchanged compliments today on the role each played in building the peace process in Northern Ireland.
The queen and Mr McGuinness exchanged warm greetings at a Northern Ireland-themed reception at Windsor Castle as part of President Higgins’ state visit to Britain.
Mr McGuinness told her he appreciated the role she had played in peacemaking.
The queen in turn complimented Mr McGuinness on the leadership he had given in bringing about peace.
The queen met a handful of political leaders before greeting the hundreds of people invited to the reception which focused on the peace process and those who had a role in it.
Speaking to reporters later, Mr McGuinness said the queen’s conduct during her visit to Dublin, particularly in the Garden of Remembrance, had been hugely impressive.
He said: “The queen’s visit to Dublin and how she conducted herself, her words at the memorial and Dublin Castle and how she reached out to all victims without differentiating, were all hugely impressive.
“She had many reasons not to meet me, and me her, but I think we’ve risen above that and seen the contribution that these big acts of reconciliation can have.
“I’m overjoyed for the President. He is my President and I’m delighted he’s been accorded such a great welcome. The week will be noted for its spirit of generosity and peacemaking,” he added.
Northern Ireland’s First Minister Peter Robinson also said the state visit had been a huge success and demonstrated a new relationship between Dublin and London and also between the North and South.
He said the relationship between the Northern administration and the Irish Government was the best it had ever been.
Mr Robinson said the queen, in inviting Mr McGuinness and he in being willing to come to Windsor Castle, demonstrated the progress that had been made.
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers said the state visit had gone brilliantly and had created a hugely positive atmosphere.
“It celebrated how relations between the two countries have been transformed and it celebrated the contribution the Irish have made to Britain,” she added.
Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore said the visit had closed the circle begun when the queen visited Ireland three years ago.
Irish Ambassador to Britain Dan Mulhall said the past few days had been the most memorable in his 35 year career as a diplomat.
The British Ambassador to Ireland Domnic Chilcott said that in his 32 years as a diplomat he had never had such an experience. “It is beyond a normal relationship between two countries. There is now real warmth.”
The queen wore a basket weave dress with an overlay of royal blue lace by Angela Kelly at today’s reception.
Also among the attendees were Paralympic gold medallist skier Kelly Gallagher from Northern Ireland and her ski guide Charlotte Evans.
Ms Gallagher said: “The queen asked me if she could hold the medal. She said that when her granddaughter Zara won a medal, she wanted to show it to the whole world. It’s amazing to be at an event like this and to be able to celebrate sport.”
Ms Evans, from Kent, flew back from France to attend the reception. “We feel like we’re being rewarded again for all our work and training,” she said.
Mary Peters, an Olympic gold medallist in 1972, also attended. She is currently the Lord Lieutenant of Belfast, making her the queen’s representative in the city.
She described the state visit as “sensational.”
“It’s been such a great journey for me as a sports person to be able to be in such august company.
“I regularly meet Prince Philip and the queen when they are in Ireland. Somebody asked the Duke of Edinburgh if he knew me and he joked: “Yes, I’ve known her since she was a little girl!”
It is rare for the queen to host a second reception, in addition to Tuesday night’s banquet, during a state visit. This is being seen as a sign of the importance the Queen attributes to the President’s trip, following her own state visit to Ireland with the Duke of Edinburgh in 2011.