Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

Queen handshake 'a reconciliation'

Martin McGuinness is to shake hands with the Queen in a historic meeting with the monarch on Wednesday

When Martin McGuinness shakes the Queen's hand he will be symbolically reaching out to hundreds of thousands of unionists, the senior Sinn Fein politician has said.

Ahead of his historic meeting with the monarch on Wednesday in Belfast, Mr McGuinness said it would be a vital step in securing reconciliation between nationalists and unionists.

The Stormont deputy First Minister has been criticised by republican hardliners over the decision to meet the Queen, but he acknowledged how the royal family was bereaved by the IRA, as he said were other families across Britain.

The meeting will take place at a celebration of culture at the Lyric theatre in Belfast which will also be attended by President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins. The event falls within a two day visit by the Queen to Northern Ireland.

The Queen and Mr McGuinness are set to meet initially in private alongside a handful of VIPs and while a photograph of the moment was ruled out last week, sources have now said discussions are ongoing around allowing the handshake to be recorded.

Mr McGuinness said of the meeting: "Obviously, it is physically impossible for me to stretch out the hand of friendship, peace and reconciliation to hundreds of thousands of unionists.

"I have shaken the hands of many unionists over the course of recent years, people who have appreciated my contribution and my party's contribution to peace. But in shaking the hand of Queen Elizabeth I am effectively, symbolically, shaking the hands of hundreds of thousands of unionists.

"I think that is a good thing. I think that is something that is very important to do, particularly in showing unionists that a spirit of generosity on all sides can pay huge dividends for all of us."

In a reference to a famous remark by former prime minister Tony Blair ahead of the 1998 Good Friday peace deal, Mr McGuinness said: "There was a lot of talk in the past about someone feeling the hand of history on his shoulder.

"This is about stretching out the hand of peace and reconciliation to Queen Elizabeth who represents hundreds of thousands of unionists in the north."

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