Belfast Telegraph

McGuinness 'may hold Queen meeting'

Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister and former IRA commander Martin McGuinness could be set for a historic first meeting with the Queen.

The Government and Buckingham Palace have yet to comment but it now appears a face-to-face meeting is increasingly likely. This would represent a historic break with the past by republicans and mark an important milestone for community relations in Northern Ireland.

Mr McGuinness said the issue could be considered in the future as a gesture to unionists but his party has insisted it has not held any official discussions. This follows the Queen's hugely significant state visit to the Irish Republic last year, where she was praised for a series of gestures aimed at healing the divisions of the past.

Rev Harold Good, a Methodist minister who played a prominent role in the peace process, said a meeting between the Queen and Mr McGuinness would help the process of building bridges between Protestants and Catholics.

"I think this would be hugely encouraging," he said. "I think it would be appreciated by people from the unionist community. They would see this as a very important sign from a very senior figure in the republican/nationalist community. I think it would also help heal some of the historic stand-offs that we have had."

The Queen is making a series of high-profile visits for the diamond jubilee of her coronation in June and there are predictions her next visit to Northern Ireland could come in the early summer.

However, there has also been speculation that the monarch could officially open Belfast's new £90 million Titanic-themed tourist attraction at the end of this month, or the major visitors' centre being opened at the Giant's Causeway in Co Antrim in June.

When the Queen paid her first state visit to the Republic of Ireland last year, she was joined by the Irish president in honouring those who died in the world wars. But the Queen also laid a wreath to republicans killed fighting British rule in Ireland and used a keynote address at a state banquet to speak in Irish.

Sinn Fein leaders have always refused to meet members of the royal family, citing opposition to Britain's continued role in Ireland and the part that royals play as figureheads of the armed forces. Troubled history has also centred on the IRA murder of the Queen's cousin Lord Mountbatten in a bomb attack on his boat in Co Sligo, near the Irish border.

The Queen's press secretary, Ailsa Anderson, said: "Planning is in an embryonic stage so there have been no decisions made about where the Queen will go or who she will meet."

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