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Queen Elizabeth II to Shake Hands with Former IRA Commander Martin McGuinness

Posted on the 27 June 2012 by Periscope @periscopepost
Queen Elizabeth II to shake hands with former IRA commander Martin McGuinness Queen Elizabeth II. Photo credit: William Mary Law Library

The background

On the second day of her state visit to Northern Ireland today Queen Elizabeth II will meet and shake the hand of Martin McGuinness, the province’s Deputy First Minister who once was an IRA commander. The handshake — which is unlikely to be in public — will take place at an event sponsored by Co-operation Ireland, which works to bring divided communities together – in the Lyric Theatre in south Belfast.

The historic handshake is widely considered to be a remarkable act of reconciliation by the Queen given that the IRA killed her cousin Lord Mountbatten in a 1979 bombing which also claimed the lives of Mountbatten’s 14-year-old grandson Nicholas Knatchbull, and a 15-year-old crew member, Paul Maxwell. The Dowager Lady Brabourne, his daughter’s mother in law, died from her injuries the following day. In 1984 a serious plot by the IRA to assassinate Prince Charles and Princess Diana at a Duran Duran concert was uncovered, reminded The Daily Mail.

British government and Sinn Fein stand to gain from handshake

Writing at The Telegraph, Lord Bew, an independent crossbench peer and professor of Irish politics at Queen’s University Belfast, insisted the handshake is politically beneficial for both the British government and Sinn Fein. “For the British Government it is simple. It wishes to reinforce the peace process and make it irreversible … Sinn Fein wishes to correct the error of boycotting last year’s royal visit to Dublin. Though Irish public opinion was less ecstatic than the British media portrayed it, mainstream opinion resented Sinn Fein’s churlish attitude and led to Mr McGuinness receiving a lower share of the vote in the presidential election than the Communist candidate received in Russia’s recent election.”

It will be an excruciating ordeal for the Queen

Andrew Pierce of The Daily Mail wondered if “anyone asked the Queen if she wants to shake hands with McGuinness?” David Cameron “should hang his head in shame for putting the Queen in the position where she felt she had no option but to follow her ministers’ advice to meet such a terrible man on British soil,” boomed Pierce, who joked “let’s hope McGuiness, the Deputy first Minister of Northern Ireland, walks through a metal detector before he meets his head of state and that she is wearing disposable gloves.” Pierce insisted that the meeting will be “excruciating for her. It will bring back unhappy memories of 1978 when she was required by the then Labour government to sit alongside the Romanian despot Nicolae Ceausescu in a carriage procession to Buckingham Palace.”

It is McGuinness not the Queen who has changed

In a leader, The Times insisted that it is wrong to interpret the handshake “as a kind of victory for McGuinness’s IRA past and Sinn Féin present. Such sentiment is understandable, but the conclusion could not be more wrong. In the baldest terms, the Queen meets Mr McGuinness in a land of which she is still head of the state that, for decades, it was his sworn mission to destroy. It is he, rather than she, who has changed.”

Deluge may yet return to Ulster

“Despite the Queen’s handshake with Martin McGuinness there is little reconciliation,” boomed Simon Jenkins at The Guardian, who insisted that “far from being reconciled, most of Belfast has merely been segregated. As a result, Northern Ireland had, at the last count, 80 barriers and “peace walls” dividing its urban and suburban neighbourhoods, three times as many as at the time of the partial ceasefire in 1994. Such a collapse in community concord is unknown elsewhere in Europe.” The future “needs realism rather than hope” said Jenkins. “Ulster’s present rulers, honed in a bitter struggle, have undoubted calibre, but they are mortal. They can shake hands with each other, not to mention the Queen, because they know they carry the confidence of their constituencies. That confidence may not outlive them. Northern Ireland politics is full of dark woods and frightening places. Sharing power across an ethnic or religious divide is inherently unstable. When the present generation passes, deluge may yet return.”

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