Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 December 2014

Hope and history rhyme in a handshake

Martin McGuinness shaking the hand of the Queen next Wednesday may be regarded as a huge gesture by republicans. Indeed, not so very long ago it would have been unthinkable. The meeting of the two has been carefully choreographed to ensure that republicans would back the deputy First Minister in consigning another anti-British touchstone to history. That said, it would be churlish to deny that the handshake will be another confidence-building measure and another stride forward in the peace process.

But while republicans have been keen to publicly display their angst over the gesture - before deciding to do what everyone always suspected they would - one central figure has kept her own counsel on the meeting. That person is the Queen, who has a deeply personal reason - the IRA murder of her cousin Lord Louis Mountbatten - for detesting republicans.

Of course we will never really know what she feels for seldom if ever does the Royal mask slip. What we do know is Her Majesty is a force for good in bringing Anglo-Irish relationships - in all parts of the island - to a new level. Who can forget her historic visit to the Republic last year and how she helped to bury historic enmity through her trips to the emblematic Garden of Remembrance for the fallen of the 1916 Easter Rising and to Croke Park, the GAA HQ?

It was also evident that there was a real friendship between President Mary McAleese and the Queen, which rippled downwards to much of the population. None of the gestures made by Her Majesty in recent times can have been easy to make, but she made them for the greater good and has won widespread praise for so doing. Perhaps the meeting - and handshake - between the Queen and a former IRA commander will be final confirmation that Northern Ireland is set firmly on the path to a new, more inclusive future.

The chains that bound us to the past are being unlocked and that, at least, is grounds for optimism.

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