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Time for McGuinness to jettison last republican taboo

It will not have escaped general notice that the Queen has been celebrating her Diamond Jubilee over the past few days and this jubilee celebration will include various trips around parts of the UK, including, on June 27 and 28, a visit to Northern Ireland, where she will spend time in Belfast and in Enniskillen.

She will meet a number of people from different walks of life, but the question that still hangs in the air is: will she meet the deputy First Minister?

The question could also be put the other way around: will Martin McGuinness meet Her Majesty the Queen?

Peter Robinson, the First Minister, very much hopes that he will and gave an interview the other day saying so.

But Robinson, who is uncommonly sensitive in his use of language where his colleague is concerned, trod carefully with his advice. He hoped McGuinness would agree to the meeting. But, of course, it might not happen.

When the Queen visited Dublin last year, Sinn Fein took the decision to remain aloof from the occasion and participated in none of the meeting and greeting.

Yet, above all, the state visit was supported by, and appreciated by, the people. And Sinn Fein is a party with a close eye on what is democratically supported and appreciated by the people.

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It will not have escaped their notice that the Queen has an 80% approval rating among her own subjects - a rating higher than any politician.

However, the next step does put McGuinness in a bit of a quandary. He has made a journey from IRA gunman to deputy First Minister. He has made that journey imaginatively, but with care.

He has befriended those former foes in the unionist community, including former DUP leader the Rev Ian Paisley.

There would surely be some republicans who would disapprove and disagree - and the political question is: can he take those followers with him?

Those of us who support good Anglo-Irish relations, not just for history's sake, but for practical reasons, too, hope that McGuinness will meet the Queen.

It would, no doubt, have to be set up in some tactful way that doesn't make too much of a hullaballoo over the occasion.

And while there are those on the ultra-republican side who will be utterly hostile to it, there are also loyalists and unionists who will greatly object, too, making allusion to a man who has blood on his hands.

But, however awful past events have been, we still have to move forward: McGuinness was willing to run for president of the Republic and, had he been elected, he would have been constitutionally obliged to meet the Queen when the Republic returns the state visit to Britain, probably next year.

I personally hope he will agree to an encounter with the Queen, but it is his call.

The Queen will agree if she is instructed to do so by the Prime Minister - the monarch always obeys the will of Parliament and the parliamentary leader.

Take another imaginative historical initiative, Martin. Step forward and meet Ma'am.


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