Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Royal visit: Queen holds first one-to-one meeting with Martin McGuinness

Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh have arrived in Northern Ireland for a three-day Royal visit

Queen Elizabeth II attends a service at the war memorial on June 25, 2014 in Coleraine (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)
Queen Elizabeth II attends a service at the war memorial on June 25, 2014 in Coleraine (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)
Two ladies dressed in 1914 period costume to mark the year of the Great War, before Queen Elizabeth II and The Duke of Edinburgh arrive at Coleraine Town Hall. Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Two ladies dressed in 1914 period costume to mark the year of the Great War, before Queen Elizabeth II and The Duke of Edinburgh arrive at Coleraine Town Hall. Liam McBurney/PA Wire
The Duke of Edinburgh at Hillsborough Castle. Photo by Simon Graham/Harrison Photography
The Duke of Edinburgh at Hillsborough Castle. Photo by Simon Graham/Harrison Photography

Martin McGuinness has praised the Queen as a passionate supporter of the Northern Ireland peace process after they held their first ever one to one meeting.

The former IRA commander described his ten minute private audience with the monarch at Hillsborough Castle in Co Down as "very nice" and "useful".

It was the Queen's third encounter with Mr McGuinness but their first on an individual to individual basis.

Coming at the start of a three day visit to the region by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, the meeting provided more evidence of the on-going efforts to normalise relations between Irish republicans and the British establishment in the post conflict era.

Further proof will be exhibited publicly tomorrow when Mr McGuinness accompanies the Royal couple on a tour of the old Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast - a prison the politician was detained in himself during the Troubles.

"It was a very nice and useful meeting with Queen Elizabeth," Mr McGuinness said as he emerged from Hillsborough Castle.

"Remember I am an Irish republican, I was an Irish republican when I went in there and I am still a very proud Irish republican, but I also have a very important ministerial position. My job is to represent everybody, my job is to provide real and positive leadership - that's what I am trying to do.

"And I think in these engagements with Queen Elizabeth, and this is the third, I always see these as an opportunity to reach out, to stretch out the hand of friendship to the unionist community here in the north.

"And I think from the contributions made by Queen Elizabeth it's quite clear indeed - her visit to Dublin, meeting me in Belfast two years ago, the visit to Windsor palace and again today, that she is someone who absolutely and passionately supports the peace process and supports big acts of reconciliation."

Before meeting Mr McGuinness, the Queen also had an audience with Democratic Unionist First Minister Peter Robinson.

The DUP leader, who earlier commended the fact that an improved security situation had allowed the Queen's visit to be well publicised in advance, noted the significance of her encounter with Mr McGuinness.

"I think the fact the deputy first minister is in sitting with an audience with the Queen at this moment perhaps demonstrates just how far we have come," he said.

While relations between Sinn Fein and the Royal family are seemingly thawing, the Queen's latest visit comes at a time when a deep freeze has set in at the heart of the power-sharing institutions at Stormont.

Political progress on big ticket issues has stalled, with Mr McGuinness and Mr Robinson unable to find consensus on how to deal with the long standing disputes - such as those on parades, flags and the past - that continue to block the road toward a fully shared society.

As with a range of recent royal engagements involving Ireland, both north and south, the themes of reconciliation, regeneration and focusing on the future will be emphasised during what is the Queen and Duke's 21st visit to Northern Ireland.

They landed earlier this evening at George Best Belfast City Airport where they were met by Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers and former Olympic champion and now Lord Lieutenant of Belfast Dame Mary Peters.

While past visits have seen the Queen's itinerary closely guarded due to security fears, this week's engagements in the region have been publicised in advance.

From the airport the couple were driven to Hillsborough Castle, their official residence in the region. On arrival crowds of well-wishers in the Co Down town cheered and waved Union flags.

The Queen wore a Kingfisher blue coat and matching hat with a Shamrock brooch.

The castle has recently been taken over by Historic Royal Palaces with a view to increasing visitor access.

Michael Day, chief executive of Historic Royal Palaces, was among the official welcoming party that greeted the Royal couple.

As the Queen conducted private audiences with Mr Robinson, Mr McGuinness, Mr Day and Ms Villiers, the Duke met participants in his well-known awards scheme.

He talked with around 75 recipients of the Duke of Edinburgh Gold Awards.

A packed day of engagements tomorrow includes a visit to the set of hit US fantasy drama Game Of Thrones in east Belfast.

The Queen and Duke will tour the Painthall studios in the city's regenerated docklands where much of the popular HBO series is filmed.

The Royal couple will also pop into the bustling St George's Market in Belfast city centre, be guests at a reception and lunch at Belfast City Hall and attend a garden party at Hillsborough Castle.

The castle is also playing host to experts and crew from the Antiques Roadshow this week and the Queen and Duke will stop by to visit them during their stay.

During her time across the Irish Sea, the Queen will also attend a Royal British Legion reception in Coleraine in Co Londonderry where she will launch a programme of activities commemorating the First World War.

The Queen and Duke last visited Northern Ireland in 2012 as part of Her Majesty's Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

That occasion proved highly symbolic in terms of the peace process as it marked the first occasion the she met Mr McGuinness.

Robinson: Open schedule a 'sign of changed times'

The public nature of the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh's latest visit to Northern Ireland reflects changing times in the region, Stormont's First Minister has said.

Ahead of the Royal couple's planned arrival in Belfast this evening, Peter Robinson expressed hope that the open nature of their schedule would allow lots of people the opportunity to greet them.

While past visits have seen the Queen's itinerary closely guarded due to security fears, this week's engagements in the region have been publicised in advance.

"It is a sign of changed times that the logistics of this visit could be announced before Her Majesty The Queen's arrival," said Mr Robinson, who described the visit as a "great honour" for Northern Ireland.

"There was a time when a Royal visit could not be reported in advance due to security concerns.

"I trust that lots of people will have the opportunity to greet Her Majesty The Queen over the next few days and express their gratitude for the wonderful leadership she has shown throughout her reign."

The Democratic Unionist leader and Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness will be at Hillsborough Castle this evening for a private audience with the Queen. Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers will also be in attendance.

The encounter will be the third time the Queen and former IRA commander Mr McGuinness have met.

Tomorrow, Mr McGuinness will accompany the Royal couple on a tour of the old Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast - a facility the politician was detained in himself during the Troubles.

Once a prison synonymous with the dark years of the conflict, its transformation into a popular visitor attraction is symbolic of Northern Ireland's journey away from conflict.

Other engagements include a visit to the set of hit US fantasy drama Game Of Thrones in east Belfast.

The Queen and Duke will tour the Painthall studios in the city's regenerated docklands where much of the popular HBO series is filmed.

Northern Ireland is fast developing an international reputation as a leading filming destination, with the powersharing administration at Stormont offering attractive incentives to producers to film in the region.

Game Of Thrones is estimated to be the biggest TV production in Europe and its first four seasons have been credited with bringing a direct economic benefit of £82 million to Northern Ireland, creating the equivalent of more than 900 full-time and 5,700 part-time jobs.

The Royal couple will also tour the bustling St George's Market in Belfast city centre, be guests at a reception and lunch at Belfast City Hall and attend a garden party at Hillsborough Castle.

The castle is also playing host to experts and crew from the Antiques Roadshow this week and the Queen and Duke will stop by to visit them during their stay.

During her time across the Irish Sea, Her Majesty will also attend a Royal British Legion reception in Coleraine in Co Londonderry where she will launch a programme of activities commemorating the First World War.

The Queen and Duke last visited Northern Ireland in 2012 as part of Her Majesty's Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

That occasion proved highly symbolic in terms of the peace process as it marked the first occasion the Queen met Mr McGuinness.

Heston Blumenthal jokes about fish and chips with Prince Phillip

Earlier on Monday, the Queen was hailed as the "inspiration" for Heathrow's new terminal today as she officially opened the £2.5 billion facility.

She joined the Duke of Edinburgh for a tour of the Terminal 2 building, which is named the Queen's Terminal in her honour, as more than 1,000 guests gathered for an opening ceremony.

The Queen was introduced to celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal and designer Cath Kidston, who have both set up outlets at T2.

Blumenthal, who has opened the Perfectionists' Cafe, said he was keen to let Philip know his favourite dish was on the menu after being questioned why he was not at his three Michelin-starred restaurant, The Fat Duck.

"He's a real foodie and a very good cook," Blumenthal said.

"He said, 'why are you not back in Bray?'. I told him, 'we've got your favourite, fish and chips, on the menu here'.

"The Queen has a really good sense of humour. She said, 'you've got a restaurant here?'. I told her we had liquid nitrogen ice cream, which she has come across before."

Speaking about the new terminal, Kidston said: "It's the window to the world. We have so many international customers, particulary in the Far East.

"The Queen is just a beacon of professionalism, both her and Prince Philip, what they offer us.

"I'm very proud to be representing Heathrow businesses here today."

Heathrow managers decided to open T2 in stages earlier this month to avoid any repeat of the disastrous opening day of Terminal 5 in March 2008.

Airlines will move into the new terminal in phases over the next six months and, when fully occupied, it will have 332 daily flights to 54 destinations.

More than 1,000 people who work at the terminal or who were involved in building the facility were invited to the official opening ceremony.

Addressing the guests, Heathrow development director John Holland-Kaye said: "Our ambition to play our part to help Britain remain a global economic powerhouse by connecting all of Britain to global growth, that sense of duty is one for which we take inspiration from one of our most frequent flyers, Her Majesty the Queen."

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: "This prestigious event marks the successful completion of one of the UK's largest construction projects.

"The new terminal is a perfect example of cutting-edge technology and design that can combine to make the best use of capacity, to improve the passengers' journey and experience, to boost the carbon efficiency by 40% over the previous building, and to produce stunning architecture that further reinforces Heathrow's reputation as a world class airport."

T2 was first opened by the Queen in 1955 as the airport's first passenger terminal. During their tour of the new building, the royal couple were introduced to sculptor Richard Wilson, whose Slipstream art installation is in the forecourt of T2.

After unveiling a commemorative plaque, the Queen and Duke boarded a flight to Northern Ireland.

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