Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 2 September 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Why Sinn Fein went to Windsor to meet the Queen: Martin McGuinness's meeting was important symbolic moment

The Queen (left) and Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness during the State visit of the President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins on April 8, 2014 in Windsor, England
The Queen (left) and Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness during the State visit of the President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins on April 8, 2014 in Windsor, England

Sinn Fein's leadership gave deep consideration to whether, or how, the party should participate in the Irish president's state visit to Britain.

The deepening political impasse here fuelled by British Government bad faith and negative political strategy, and political unionism's intransigence, all weighed heavily on those discussions.

Republicans had to assess whether our attendance at the Windsor Castle events would be a mistake in such circumstances, or make a positive political contribution.

The peace process has had to be consolidated and sustained by important symbolic initiatives. Martin McGuinness's meeting with Queen Elizabeth in 2012 was such a moment.

But gestures can also be risky. They often involve making uncomfortable decisions, when the safe thing might be to do nothing.

We concluded that participating fully in the state visit, including the engagements hosted by Queen Elizabeth, was an important way to show that the process of change is continuing.

Sinn Fein believed that going to Windsor Castle could represent a symbolic demonstration of our unambiguous commitment to parity of esteem and a sincere gesture of reconciliation to our unionist neighbours.

This week's events have the potential to advance the change process and the development of reconciliation. That potential must not be squandered.

The British and Irish governments have a huge opportunity to build upon the initiatives and risks that have been taken. The US government remains a significant influence.

Inertia is the enemy of the peace process. Standing still is not an option.

A political strategy is required to reintroduce momentum and confidence into politics here. Endorsement of the Haass compromises is central to that.

Commitment by all parties and governments to real power-sharing is paramount.

The symbolic gestures of reconciliation and respect this week need urgently to translate into more change, reconciliation, healing and a shared future.

Declan Kearney is Sinn Fein's national chairman.

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