There should be no protests against the Queen’s forthcoming visit to Dublin, Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has said.
He also said that republican dissidents have no chance of either destabilising Northern Ireland or breaking up the power sharing government.
The move will be seen as a significant milestone for the Sinn Fein leader.
It runs parallel to Peter Robinson’s recent statement, in another Belfast Telegraph interview, that he would, for the first time, be prepared to show his respect at the death of Catholic friends by attending funeral Masses.
Mr McGuinness said: “We are all on a journey and the journey we are on means there are different situations we are going to have to deal with, and Peter has identified the issue of Mass.”
For his part, he believes people should respect the fact that Irish President Mary McAleese has invited the Queen to Dublin as part of her policy of reconciliation.
“While people have the right to protest, I think protest would be a mistake. Particularly protests that could turn violent. It would be a huge mistake,” he said.
Mr McGuinness explained that the gesture was not an easy one.
“These are tricky situations to deal with. Consider my own city for example. In the aftermath of the murder of 14 people on Bloody Sunday, The Parachute Regiment was rushed up to Buckingham Palace and decorated by the Queen. If people think that doesn’t present a problem for me, quite apart from our view that Ireland should be free and united, then they are mistaken.”
In the past, republicans have attempted to disrupt royal visits — they planted a bomb in Coleraine University in 1977.
Last year, Ogra Sinn Fein, the party’s youth wing, called for protests. And a few weeks ago, Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein President, described the visit as premature but stopped short of calling for protest. His cautious position was endorsed by the Sinn Fein Ard Comhairle at the weekend.
Mr McGuinness has also wished Prince William and Kate Middleton a long and happy marriage “as I would any young couple”.
The deputy First Minister also rounded on republican dissidents saying: “They quite clearly lack support in the community.
“They are minuscule groups, albeit dangerous if they are trying to kill people.”
He believes Sinn Fein successes in the southern elections dealt a psychological blow that dissidents are finding hard to absorb.
“We are developing an all-Ireland agenda,” he said.
“Here we have a situation where we have 41 TDs and MLAs on the island. As we face into the final days of this Assembly I have great confidence that nothing they [the dissidents] can do will destabilise the institutions that were brought about with the support of the parties here and with the support of the Irish government.”
Asked if he had fears for his personal security, he said: “I feel quite confident, though I could be proven wrong, that these people understand there is nothing to be gained and everything to be lost by going down that route.”
He said he knew British and Irish governments had been in contact with dissident leaders and thought this was worthwhile.
He also approved of efforts by community leaders to engage with them, adding: “We in Sinn Fein have offered to meet them but they have not, so far, had the confidence to meet with us.”