Royal rally hits handshake plan
Sinn Fein has said it was caught off guard by the announcement last Friday that the visit of British monarch Elizabeth Windsor to Stormont later this month will involve a giant celebration by tens of thousands of unionists.
The event at the Stormont estate is due to happen as part of the two-day visit to the north of Ireland during Windsor’s Jubilee “tour of the UK”.
The British government’s Northern Ireland Office (NIO) revealed last week that a ‘party’ would take place in the grounds of Stormont Parliament Buildings on 27 June to welcome the monarch. It initially said there would be 10,000 attending, but that number has since increased to 20,000-25,000.
On Sunday, Culture Minister Carál Ní Chuilín said Sinn Féin had not been consulted and that she would not be attending the rally. The next day, Mr McGuinness, who had been expected to greet Windsor at Stormont, described the British announcement as “unfortunate” and said he was “surprised” by it.
He added that there is currently no “doable proposition” for him to meet the queen.
A decision to welcome Windsor, the Commander-in-Chief of the British armed forces, was seen as a gravely difficult move for the former IRA commander, despite his current role as the North’s Deputy First Minister.
But the added presence of tens of thousands of Union Jack-waving loyalists in the grounds around Stormont has increased the potential humiliation for the Sinn Fein veteran.
“This would be a huge ask for any Irish republican and, as we speak at the moment, we do not have a doable proposition in relation to that matter,” Mr McGuinness said.
He said an earlier decision by the Six-County Executive to send a gift to Windsor had been arrived at “in a very diplomatic and sensible manner”, but that Friday’s surprise announcement was “unfortunate”.
British Direct Ruler Owen Paterson said that all the parties in the North had been made aware of the broad outlines of the planned visit by the NIO.
While negotiations are said to be still taking place behind the scenes to resolve the matter, a direct meeting between McGuinness and Windsor is now seen as unlikely.
However, DUP First Minister Peter Robinson warmly welcomed the announcement of the rally. “It is fitting that such a celebration should take place in the Stormont Estate,” said Robinson. He said the British royals are not “in the business of doing deals” but he hoped a meeting with Martin McGuinness could still be arranged.
On Sunday, Sinn Fein’s Minister of Culture Caral Ni Chuilin ruled out attending the event, which she said she only heard about through the media. She accused the British government of “concocting” the celebration with the DUP.
Sinn Fein MP said Pat Doherty said Paterson was being “deliberately disingenuous” to say that Sinn Fein had been made aware of the Stormont event.
“It is typical of the ham-fisted way the NIO has operated under Mr Paterson’s tenure.
“Neither Owen Paterson nor the NIO told Sinn Féin of plans for between 10,000 and 25,000 people holding a Jubilee event in the Stormont estate.
“This matter did not go to the Executive - in our view it should have done.”
Geraldine McNamara PRO of Republican Sinn Fein said there would be protests against the visit.
“The British queen is not welcome in the occupied six counties of Ireland no more than she was welcome in the twenty six counties by Republicans last year,” she said.
There was an attempt to make the world believe that it is acceptable by the Irish people to have two divided states, she added.
“One hundred years ago when a previous British monarch visited Ireland republicans stated that ‘we serve neither King nor Kaiser’. Today we state that ‘we serve neither Queen nor Chancellor’.”
“The media will no doubt attempt to portray this as a visit by a monarch to greet her subjects. In response we must take to the streets once more in opposition, we must make the international community aware that Ireland is still under foreign occupation and that we are subjects to foreign Queen.
“We live by the Republic that was declared in 1916 and will live under no other law.”