Martin McGuinness signals he is ready to meet Queen if Sinn Fein leadership green lights historic U-turn
Martin McGuinness has given the strongest hint yet that he is prepared to meet the Queen in his capacity as Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland.
He has also called for Catholic priests to be allowed to marry and have children, and for women to be allowed to enter the priesthood.
“It would make it much more difficult for the child sex abusers, that very tiny percentage of priests, to go about their activities if more women were priests,” he said.
Mr McGuinness confirmed that once details of the Queen’s Jubilee visit to Northern Ireland were given to him it would be put to his party’s ruling ard comhairle (national executive) to make a ruling.
“It will undoubtedly be put to the ard comhairle,” he said.
“Decisions of this magnitude will always be taken by the Sinn Fein leadership and as a member of the leadership I will have an opinion.”
Speaking during an exclusive interview with Belfast Telegraph political and sports editors, Mr McGuinness said: “This is an issue which the party would have to be comfortable with.
“We are awaiting the details of the proposed royal visit.”
It is the first time that Sinn Fein has not opposed such a visit outright.
In 1977, on her Silver Jubilee, an IRA bomb was discovered at the University of Ulster with a long delay timer set for when she was due to visit the campus.
Republican hostility then demanded the deployment of 32,000 police and troops for her visit.
This time “there will be a very healthy discussion within the party”, he pledged.
This will be seen as the choreography leading up to a meeting in the next few weeks.
It is the latest in a series of confidence-building initiatives by himself and First Minister Peter Robinson.
Mr McGuinness, a devout Catholic who prays daily, also threw his weight behind demands for married priests, both men and women, and hit out at the Catholic hierarchy for concealing clerical child abuse.
At the weekend, Bishop Donal McKeown of Down and Connor questioned whether politicians and former paramilitary members like Mr McGuinness had the moral authority to point the finger at the Church for its misdeeds.
Dr McKeown suggested that everyone, including the security forces and journalists, had covered up things during the Troubles.
“I saw Donal McKeown's comments at the weekend as an attempt to distract attention.
“It is an attempt to silence politicians, and indeed journalists, and we are not going to be silenced,” Mr McGuinness pledged.
He argued that clerical celibacy and the absence of women in the Church leadership, because they cannot be ordained priests, had left the hierarchy out of touch with the membership.
“People have been following their own conscience for a long time,” he said.
“On issues such as contraception and divorce, women priests and celibacy, the leadership of the Catholic Church is a mile behind the people.
“The other day on the radio someone said that Catholics have been using contraceptives for 20 years.
“The fact is it goes back further than that, Catholics have been using contraceptives for 50 years.”