Belfast Telegraph

McGuinness-Queen handshake hailed

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II shakes hands with Martin McGuinness
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II shakes hands with Martin McGuinness
Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness has described the handshake as a 'huge act of reconciliation'

The historic handshake between Britain's Queen Elizabeth and Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness, together with his words of blessing as they said goodbye, have been hailed as a watershed moment for Anglo-Irish relations.

The encounter between the former IRA commander - now Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister - and Queen Elizabeth II was unthinkable a little over 10 years ago.

But the success of the peace process and the Queen's acclaimed visit to Ireland last year, when her conciliatory words and gestures won over many critics of the monarchy, paved the way for their meeting.

Queen Elizabeth and Mr McGuinness first shook hands away from the media spotlight behind closed doors at a cultural event in Belfast's Lyric theatre.

But as the British monarch left the venue they shook hands again, this time in public, as Mr McGuinness offered parting words in Irish and told her the phrase meant: "Goodbye and God's speed."

During their initial private meeting the Deputy First Minister is said to have commented briefly on the Queen's visit to Dublin last year, and in particular the comments she made at the time recognising all the victims of the conflict.

A Sinn Fein spokesman said of their conversation: "He emphasised the need to acknowledge the pain of all victims of the conflict and their families."

Mr McGuinness is said to have spoken to the Queen of the significance of her visit, and of the need for it to be built upon in the time ahead.

The party said Mr McGuinness told the British monarch that their meeting was a "powerful signal that peace-building requires leadership".

Peter Sheridan, of the Cooperation Ireland charity that organised the event at the Lyric, said it was an example of peace-building. He said of the mood: "It was a very relaxed atmosphere, the very ordinariness of it, even if it was not ordinary people."

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