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Reconciliation key theme in Queen's Christmas speech

By Tony Jones

The Queen used her Christmas Day broadcast to highlight the importance of reconciliation between opposing sides - from communities here in Northern Ireland to those involved in the Scottish independence referendum.

She used examples of positive changes in Northern Ireland throughout her address to make her point, including "vivid" memories of her visit to Belfast's Crumlin Road Gaol.

In her annual address to the nation, the Head of State also talked about the poignant moment when First World War forces put aside their differences and met in No Man's Land during the Christmas truce of 1914.

The Queen said many felt "great disappointment" after a majority of Scottish voters rejected independence and others "great relief", and "bridging these differences will take time".

The monarch said she was reminded of this in June when she visited Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast, where republican and loyalist prisoners were held during the Troubles. It is now a visitor attraction and conference centre and "a place of hope and fresh purpose", she said.

The Queen spoke of a sculpture of a man and woman embracing by Josefina de Vasconcellos called Reconciliation - the theme of her Christmas broadcast.

Casts of the artwork can be found in the ruins of Coventry Cathedral and at sites in Belfast and Berlin, said the Queen, and the artist was inspired by a woman's search across Europe on foot for her husband after the Second World War. She said: "The benefits of reconciliation were clear to see when I visited Belfast in June.

"While my tour of the set of Game Of Thrones may have gained most attention, my visit to the Crumlin Road Gaol will remain vividly in my mind.

"What was once a prison during the Troubles is now a place of hope and fresh purpose; a reminder of what is possible when people reach out to one another, rather like the couple in the sculpture."

Footage of the visit was shown including the monarch walking through the building with First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness - both of whom spent time in its cells in the past.

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