Martin McGuinness hails encounter with Queen at Hillsborough Castle as 'very nice'
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness took part in his first one-on-one meeting with the Queen last night.
The historic encounter came on the first day of the Queen's 21st visit to Northern Ireland.
The Sinn Fein veteran and former IRA commander described his 10-minute private audience with the monarch at Hillsborough Castle as "very nice" and "useful".
It was the Queen's third encounter with Mr McGuinness but their first on a one-to-one basis.
Emerging from the meeting, Mr McGuinness said he had reached out, and called on other political leaders to also reach out.
"I am a proud Irish republican and as such I am committed to working towards reconciliation and promoting mutual respect and tolerance among all the people of this island," he said.
"I met Queen Elizabeth in my role as Deputy First Minister, representing the entire community.
"Reconciliation requires bold gestures and this is the third time I have met with Queen Elizabeth as part of that continuing process.
"I think from the contributions made by Queen Elizabeth it's quite clear indeed – her visit to Dublin, meeting me in Belfast two years ago, the visit to Windsor Castle and again today, that she is someone who absolutely and passionately supports the peace process and supports big acts of reconciliation."
Mr McGuinness said the move was also about reaching out the hand of friendship to the unionist community.
He met the Queen for the first time during her last visit to Northern Ireland in 2012, and met her again earlier this year during a banquet at Windsor Castle, which was held in honour of Irish President Michael D Higgins' State visit to the UK.
Mr McGuinness added: "Everyone needs to do more of this. There is an onus on all political leaders to take big steps to move the process of reconciliation forward."
Today the Deputy First Minister will accompany the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh on a tour of the old Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast – a prison the politician was detained in himself during the Troubles.
Before meeting Mr McGuinness yesterday evening, the Queen also had an audience with First Minister Peter Robinson.
The DUP leader, who earlier commended the fact that an improved security situation had allowed the Queen's visit to be well publicised in advance, noted the significance of her encounter with Mr McGuinness.
"I think the fact the Deputy First Minister is in sitting with an audience with the Queen at this moment perhaps demonstrates just how far we have come," he said.
As with a range of recent royal engagements involving Ireland, both north and south, the themes of reconciliation, regeneration and focusing on the future will be emphasised during the visit to Northern Ireland.
The royal couple landed earlier yesterday evening at George Best Belfast City Airport where they were met by Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers and former Olympic champion and now Lord Lieutenant of Belfast, Dame Mary Peters.
As the Queen conducted private audiences with Mr Robinson, Mr McGuinness and Ms Villiers, the Duke met young participants in his long-running awards scheme.
He talked with around 75 recipients of the Duke of Edinburgh Gold Awards at Hillsborough.
The royal couple will take part in a packed day of engagements today including a visit to the set of hit US fantasy drama Game Of Thrones at Titanic Quarter in east Belfast, St George's Market in the city centre, before moving on to a lunch at Belfast City Hall and later a garden party at Hillsborough Castle.
The castle is also playing host to experts and crew from the Antiques Roadshow this week, and the Queen and Duke will stop by to visit them during their stay.
The Queen and Duke last visited Northern Ireland in 2012 as part of Her Majesty's Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
Story so far
Today the Queen and Prince Philip's first engagement will be a visit to Crumlin Road Gaol in north Belfast. They will later move on to experience the Game Of Thrones set at the Painthall in Titanic Quarter before taking in St George's Market in the city centre, and then lunch at City Hall. Later they will attend a garden party at Hillsborough Castle. Tomorrow they will attend a Royal British Legion reception at Coleraine Town Hall.