Queen and former IRA leader to meet for the first time
Martin McGuinness, former IRA commander and current deputy first minister, will hold a landmark meeting with the Queen when she visits Belfast next week.
Sinn Fein, the party McGuinness is involved with, refused to agree to a meeting linked to the large-scale jubilee party to be held in the grounds of Stormont, the Belfast seat of government. Instead, the Queen will meet McGuinness in an Anglo-Irish setting.
The Queen has never met a senior figure in the now-defunct IRA, which killed her relative Lord Mountbatten during its 30-year armed campaign against British rule.
Sinn Fein decided to sanction the meeting on Friday – decision which would have been inconceivable a generation ago – enabling McGuinness, a hero among Irish nationalists, to meet the monarch on Wednesday during her two-day visit to Northern Ireland as part of her Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
“Today’s decision is the right thing to do, at the right time for the right reasons,” said Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams. “This is a very significant initiative by us. We don’t have to do it, we are doing it despite the fact that it will cause difficulties for some of our own folk but we think it’s good for Ireland.”
Prior to this, the Queen had never publicly announced her trip to Ireland ahead of her arrival for safety reasons, as a minority of former IRA continued their attacks against British targets despite the IRA ending its 30-year battle against British rule in 1998.
The 26th-27th June visit was the first to be announced in advance and she will travel to Belfast and Enniskillen, scene of an IRA bombing that killed 11 people at a memorial service in 1987.
She will meet McGuinness, Ireland’s president Michael D Higgins and First Minister Peter Robinson at an event organised by the cross-border peace-building charity Co-operation Ireland.
The decision to meet the Queen has not been well received by all as some of the members of the Sinn Fein party refused to stray away from the party’s ideologies.
Gerry Adams, however, reassured its members and the supporters that McGuinness will still believe in the same cause as them.
He said: “Today’s decision reflects a confident, dynamic, forward looking Sinn Fein demonstrating our genuine desire to embrace our Unionist neighbours.
“You can rest assured that when Martin McGuinness completes this engagement, he will be as true and as staunch and as active a republican as he is now.”