Sinn Fein was prompted into agreeing to meet the Queen after republicans misjudged how popular her State visit to the Republic would be, former First Minister David Trimble believes.
The former Ulster Unionist leader said he wasn’t surprised at Martin McGuinness’s historic decision to meet the monarch and shake her hand this week as it was a “natural progression” for Sinn Fein.
“The timing's not a surprise; the republicans misjudged the popular reaction to the Queen in the Republic of Ireland during the State visit and I'm sure they wouldn't want to be seen by their electorate as misjudging their reaction to this visit coming up this week,” Lord Trimble said.
“I'm not surprised that it's happening, I'm a little bit surprised at the fuss that they are making about it as if it was a huge deal.
“I'm sure they have known for ages that this was inevitable, and there are still further steps.”
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams yesterday said the decision to have Mr McGuinness meet the Queen during her two-day Jubilee visit to Northern Ireland is an effort to reach out to unionists in Northern Ireland.
The party leader told republicans in west Belfast that he opposed the idea of monarchy, but wanted to reassure unionists of their place in his vision of a united Ireland.
Mr Adams said his party was correct to boycott the Queen's historic visit to the Republic last year, but predicted the encounter planned for Belfast on Wednesday would be a milestone in the peace process.
“This week's meeting is a clear expression of our desire to engage with our unionist neighbours and to demonstrate that we are prepared, once again, to go beyond the rhetoric as we seek to persuade them that our new Ireland will not be a cold house for unionists, or any other section of our people,” said Mr Adams.
Charity Co-operation Ireland is hosting a celebration of culture on the island of Ireland in Belfast's Lyric Theatre and the venue will provide the stage for the first meeting between Sinn Fein and the Queen.
Irish president Michael D Higgins will also be there.
The historic handshake is expected to take place in private before VIP guests join others.
It isn’t clear whether the momentous gesture will be photographed but Mr Adams said he has no objection to that. Sinn Fein has been sensitive about photographs of key events before. It objected to demands for photography during the Peace Process in 2005, when the DUP wanted proof that IRA weapons had been decommissioned.
The handshake will be viewed as another in a long list of advances in Anglo-Irish relations.
One of the most significant was the Queen laying a wreath at the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin, which honours republicans who died fighting British rule, followed by a tour of the GAA HQ at Croke Park.
She also spoke a few words of Irish at a banquet in her honour.
Since then, Mr McGuinness has spoken several times of how he was struck by the Queen's gestures.
McGuinness branded a traitor during rally
By Suzanne Breen
Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness is “a traitor” for agreeing to meet the Queen, a rally of republican hardliners in south Armagh has been told.
Provisional IRA founder Laurence O’Neill denounced Mr McGuinness as “a Judas” and said he should hang his head in shame for meeting the monarch while Northern Ireland remained under British rule.
O’Neill was addressing a commemoration yesterday in Crossmaglen for local IRA bomb-maker Sean O’Callaghan, who died eight years ago.
Around 300 people attended the rally including prominent Lurgan republican Colin Duffy, ex-Sinn Fein MLA and Newry councillor Davy Hyland, Garvaghy Road residents’ spokesman Breandan MacCionnaith, and former Tyrone IRA leaders.
IRA hunger strikers Tommy McKearney and Gerard Hodgins were also present. A British Army spotter plane hovered overhead throughout the rally which was held at a controversial IRA monument that Sinn Fein denies is a political memorial.
The party claims the statute is “a tourist attraction” and is supporting an application for a grant of up to £30,000 of taxpayers’ money for its refurbishment.
O’Neill, from Co Antrim, said the Queen was “commander in chief” of the British Army which had killed republicans in Ireland for decades.
Mr McGuinness was a traitor for “shaking the paw of the Queen of England as a guarantee that will see her dream come true of Ireland remaining a cosy, peaceful colony”.
“We are here today because we are republicans of the original school, not the kind that have supped the soup and would try to justify their treachery,” he said.
He claimed republican grassroots had been “conned”.
He added: “Shame on those who sold us out. We were told the lie that the war was at a stalemate — yet the IRA had 20 tons of weaponry in bunkers all over Ireland.”
The rally was also addressed by ex-Sinn Fein MLA Pat McNamee and former party representative Jim McAllister.
Mr McNamee said: “Don’t tell us that securing the current political arrangements in the North was what the republican struggle was about. Don’t tell us that a better partition is what people suffered and died for.
“Sean O’Callaghan gave the best years of his life for an independent 32 county republic.”