A Sinn Féin tease
AT STORMONT this week Sinn Féin called a press conference where some reporters expected to hear a definitive statement on whether the Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness would meet Queen Elizabeth when she visits Northern Ireland on June 26th and 27th.
Instead the Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams detailed how the party was ending its Stormont/House of Commons dual mandate in the coming weeks with Mr McGuinness shortly to stand down as MP for Mid-Ulster. Its four other MPs – Pat Doherty, Conor Murphy, Michelle Gildernew and Paul Maskey – will resign from the Northern Assembly to concentrate, as Mr Adams put it, on areas such as lobbying in Britain and promoting the case for Irish unity.
Not surprisingly this caused some raised eyebrows. These are senior party figures – Ms Gildernew and Mr Murphy are former ministers in the Executive – prompting some renewed speculation that Sinn Féin may be considering ending its Westminster abstentionist policy. Mr Adams, however, said they would not be taking their seats in the Commons but one imagines he will be happy that he has left the public wondering about Sinn Féin’s ultimate intentions over Westminster.
More importantly, however, Mr Adams and Mr McGuinness also left people guessing as to whether the latter will meet Queen Elizabeth when she visits the North as part of her jubilee celebrations. The two said such an encounter was a “big ask” for republicans and not “doable” at the moment. Mr Adams would not say what would make it “doable”. It did not sound like Sinn Féin’s final pronouncement on the matter.
In recent months senior figures have been making much play about reaching out to unionists and respecting their traditions. All the signals seemed to point to Mr McGuinness meeting Queen Elizabeth.
Sinn Féin, of course, will garner as much propaganda from the issue as is possible but it would be wise not to overplay its hand. Shaking hands with Queen Elizabeth, possibly in a private of semi-private setting, would involve some political risk for Mr McGuinness and Sinn Féin, but risk it is well capable of managing.
In the spirit of further improving relationships within the North and between the islands – as the queen did when she visited the Republic – Mr McGuinness should cut out the posturing and procrastination, quickly and boldly state he will meet Queen Elizabeth at the end of this month. And then do the deed with good grace.