Belfast Telegraph

I was following in footsteps of McGuinness, says Sinn Fein's Kelly after shaking Prince’s hand

By Victoria Leonard

Former IRA bomber Gerry Kelly said he and Caral Ni Chuilin were "following in the footsteps" of the late Martin McGuinness by shaking Prince Charles's hand at a north Belfast church yesterday.

Mr Kelly, who escaped from the Maze in 1983 while serving a jail sentence for the 1973 Old Bailey bombing, told the Belfast Telegraph he had "no difficulty" as a republican in shaking the hand of the future King.

Former Culture Minister Ms Ni Chuilin said she was "still an Irish republican" and didn't "subscribe to the politics of the monarchy".

The Sinn Fein MLAs met Prince Charles at an event in Belfast's Carlisle Memorial Church during the first engagement of his two-day visit here.

His Royal Highness was greeted by dignitaries including Sinn Fein Lord Mayor Deirdre Hargey, before touring the 19th-century neo-gothic church which has been undergoing regeneration work through the Belfast Buildings Trust for the past decade.

He was then treated to a performance by members of the Ulster Orchestra, which is considering whether to make the building its permanent base, before being introduced to community and voluntary representatives.

Mr Kelly said he had welcomed Prince Charles in Irish, and described the meeting as "outreach" work.

"Martin McGuinness stepped out, he was the leader that did it, we're following in his footsteps.

"I was glad to come down and meet him, so no difficulties at all.

"There's no better place to do it than in north Belfast, a very mixed area often described as a microcosm of the difficulties or the characteristics of the whole of the north.

"It's a patchwork quilt of communities, and Sinn Fein for a very long time has had an outreach programme, and Martin McGuinness has led from the front, so it's about leadership as well.

"We were glad to come down and do it, and hope that it does show a sign of reaching out, and of course Prince Charles will have his own view of that.

"I don't want to over-paint it or under-paint it, but we came down as republicans."

When asked how he felt as a republican to shake the hand of the future King, he replied: "I don't have a difficulty.

"Republicanism is built on interculture.

"We understand in Ireland, and in this part of Ireland, we have people who are British and see themselves as British, and this is part of their culture as well.

"And I would hope that there would be reciprocation. I'm not demanding that, that's not why I came, but if we can build on this.

"I come from a different community, I'm not a monarchist, I'm a republican.

"However, there are other people who believe in the monarchy, who look up to them.

"So I think it's a good thing to do, I would do it again, I've no difficulty doing it whatsoever, and I've no difficulty shaking his hand either. He shook it and he knew he was shaking the hand of a republican, in fairness to him."

Ms Ni Chuilin said the day had been "great" and that it would be "no bother" to welcome Prince Charles back in future.

"Martin McGuinness has led the way in terms of that sort of leadership," she said.

"We've a very proud record of meeting everyone and that will continue.

"For us, today, it was great.

"I know who he is and I know he's in charge of the British Armed Forces, and I know all that, and I know their history here so we're not going to agree on that. I'm still an Irish republican, still as much an Irish republican (as) before I met him so it's not an issue and we're not going to agree, and as a republican I certainly don't subscribe to the politics of the monarchy, but it is what it is."

Charles, whose uncle Lord Louis Mountbatten was killed by an IRA bomb at Mullaghmore in Co Sligo in 1979, has spoken many times about reconciliation in Ireland and has previously met Gerry Adams.

As he toured Carlisle Memorial Church, which has served as a gateway to north Belfast since 1875, the Prince was shown around by Fionnuala Jay O'Boyle, patron of the Belfast Buildings Trust which is the custodian of the church. She is also Lord Lieutenant of Belfast. She said: "An event like today really has gladdened everybody's heart and lifted everybody's spirits."

The church was built by James Carlisle in memory of his two children who died in plagues and epidemics.

Shane Quinn, the development manager for Belfast Buildings Trust, said the Prince's visit had provided "tremendous support" for the efforts to regenerate the church.

"This building is absolutely a symbol of regeneration," he said.

"We did a community consultation in 2008/9 where people from north Belfast told us very clearly that this building was important to them, that it was meaningful to their sense of place and what north Belfast means to them.

"Prince Charles said it was a really beautiful space."

Schoolchildren from across the community, including those from Belfast Royal Academy and the nearby St Malachy's College, met the royal visitor.

Ciaron McKenna (16), a GCSE pupil from St Malachy's, played the tin whistle as part of his school group. He said Prince Charles asked if the "ghastly" schoolwork got in the way of music. He added: "It was a big deal, coming from a Catholic background it is unusual to meet the royals, but it was a good experience and I enjoyed it."

Charles sampled local cheese and craft beer before his next engagement in the north-west.

Belfast Telegraph

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