Editor's Viewpoint: Ulster says yes to a new beginning
Published 28/06/2012 | 08:00
While the Jubilee celebrations are to mark the Queen's 60 years on the throne, her visit to Northern Ireland was never going to be as simple as that. In a province of differing allegiances, royal visits in the past have drawn differing reactions from unionists and nationalists.
However, that is changing slowly but surely and credit for that must go to Her Majesty for the efforts she has put into bridge building between Ireland and Britain, especially during the terms of office of Irish presidents Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese, culminating in last year's visit to the Republic.
It is said that the Queen is merely doing the bidding of the Government of the day, but that surely is to underestimate her own input.
She gives every indication - for we can never truly know what she thinks - of having a genuine desire to further the peace process and that, no doubt, included the decision to shake hands with former IRA commander Martin McGuinness.
Her body language yesterday did not signal any distaste with the gesture.
Of course Mr McGuinness makes his feelings abundantly clear. He is a politician and is playing to a very wide-ranging constituency. His words in Irish to the Queen and his reasoning for shaking hands with her were political.
Yet that should not undermine either gesture or words. In recent years he has been one of the most impressive and statesman-like politicians in the province and, while he does not hide his republican credentials, he has made genuine and courageous attempts to reach out to unionists in a way that probably no other republican could manage.
But he must also realise that his desire for Irish unity - except in spirit - is now probably further away than ever.
The border is no longer an issue which bothers many people and most nationalists seem content with life in Northern Ireland now that there is equality of political representation at the heart of government. Just because Sinn Fein is by far the largest nationalist party does not mean that all who vote for it share its republican ideals.
What has been noticeable during the Queen's visit has been the mutual respect for the Britishness and Irishness of Northern Ireland's split personality. It would be naÃ¯ve to imagine that division has melted away - and no doubt the summer's marching season will expose some rifts - but there is a genuine feeling of progress towards a shared society.
The joyous atmosphere at Stormont for the royal garden party showed the continuing loyalty to the monarchy from the majority community, but there was no sign of hostility or desire to be killjoys from nationalists, apart from a tiny unrepresentative section. Perhaps that is the best reason of all to celebrate this Diamond Jubilee.