Belfast Telegraph

Ex-IRA leader McGuinness toasts Queen in her own house at Windsor

By Rebecca Black

Martin McGuinness last night defied republican tradition as the former IRA commander lifted his glass in a toast to the Queen at a royal banquet in her own home.

In scenes once regarded as unthinkable, the Sinn Fein leader stood for God Save The Queen and shook the Queen's hand for the second time during the State occasion at Windsor Castle.

Just two years ago Sinn Fein had refused to take part when the Queen made an historic visit to the Republic of Ireland. But yesterday, the Deputy First Minister was at the centre of events.

In her speech, the Queen summed up the mood, saying Britain and Ireland would "no longer allow our past to ensnare our future".

The extraordinary scenes came as Irish President Michael D Higgins made the first official visit by an Irish leader to the UK.

Earlier, thousands of people had lined the streets of Windsor and cheered as he passed carried in a horse-drawn carriage along with the Queen.

He visited Westminster Abbey where he took time to reflect at a memorial to the Queen's cousin Lord Mountbatten – who was killed in an IRA bomb in Co Sligo in 1979 – and addressed a joint assembly of MPs and Lords.

Three Sinn Fein MPs – Michelle Gildernew, Paul Maskey and Pat Doherty – sat in the Royal Gallery as Mr Higgins addressed both the House of Commons and House of Lords.

It is understood that Sinn Fein MPs will also take part in other events during the Irish President's four-day visit to the UK.

And with impeccable timing, it was announced yesterday that England will play a friendly football match against the Republic at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin in June 2015 – the first in Ireland since 1995 when English hooligans rioted and the game had to be abandoned.

Mr McGuinness attended the banquet last night at Windsor Castle along with First Minister Peter Robinson.

The Queen spoke first in a three-minute speech in which she told Mr Higgins that her family and Government will stand alongside him and his ministers "throughout the anniversaries of the war and of the events that led to the creation of the Irish Free State".

"My visit to Ireland, and your visit this week, Mr President, show that we are walking together towards a brighter, more settled future," she said. "We will remember our past, but we shall no longer allow our past to ensnare our future. This is the greatest gift we can give to succeeding generations."

Mr Higgins responded saying: "This present occasion, which completes a circle begun by your historic visit three years ago, marks the welcome transformation in relations between our countries over recent years – a transformation that has been considerably progressed by the advancement of peace in Northern Ireland."

In a much anticipated moment, he then proposed a toast to the Queen. All eyes were on Mr McGuinness as President Higgins invited guests to stand and join him in a toast to the health and happiness of the Queen and Prince Philip and the people of the UK.

Mr McGuinness stood up and participated in the toast as the orchestra played God Save The Queen.

The Deputy First Minister said beforehand that he planned to "observe all protocols" at the event.

No Sinn Fein representative appeared to speak out openly against the move, but Mr McGuinness received some criticism on Twitter with posters accusing him of "taking the soup".

Victims of violence protest at castle gates

The republican leader's presence at Windsor Castle did not pass off totally without incident.

The sister of a woman killed in an IRA bombing called for Deputy First Minister to be arrested as he arrived to take part in the banquet with the Queen last night.

Julie Hambleton – whose 18-year-old sister Maxine died in the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings – was one of those taking part in a protest outside the royal castle last night.

Victor Barker, whose 12-year-old son James was one of 29 people killed in the Omagh bomb, also took part.

Mr Barker held a large sign which read: 'A terrorist in a white tie and tails is still a terrorist – Martin McGuiness time to tell the truth'.

Mr Barker said that he wanted Mr McGuinness to "do more than apologise".

"I'm here because I think that people should be reminded of McGuinness' past and not just rewrite history as far as he's concerned," he said.

"I want him to admit his involvement in the past and accept responsibility for it," he said, adding: "McGuinness needs to come clean."

Ms Hambleton expressed anger at the British establishment for inviting Mr McGuinness to the lavish event.

"By rights he should be arrested," she said.

"He's got so much blood on his hands."

She described his attendance at the event as "the epitome of hypocrisy".

Aileen Quinton, whose 72-year-old mother Alberta died in the 1987 Enniskillen bomb, said she doubted whether the Queen wanted to invite Mr McGuinness to the event.

"I think she's put in a very difficult position," she said.

Former Irish Guardsman John Radley, who was injured in the Chelsea Barracks bomb in 1981, said that he felt victims like him have been "thrown on the scrapheap".

"McGuinness hasn't got the b**** to meet us," he said,

Mr Radley said that while many incidents happened 20 or 30 years ago, victims "live with it every single day".

Yesterday it was announced that no new inquiry will be launched into the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings after a re-examination of the evidence.

Chief Constable Chris Sims from West Midlands Police said no new evidence had been discovered that would help bring anyone to justice for the atrocity in Birmingham town centre which claimed 21 lives and left 182 injured.

He insisted that the investigation was still open, in spite of the force's announcement.

Nobody has been brought to justice for the atrocity when two bombs exploded at the Mulberry Bush and the Tavern in the Town pubs on November 21, 1974.

Six men were jailed for the bombings in 1975. The Birmingham Six spent 16 years in prison before their convictions were quashed in 1991.

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