Sinn Fein has confirmed reports that Martin McGuinness is to visit Windsor Castle to attend a royal banquet with the English queen this week.
Mr McGuinness will attend a banquet is being held in Windsor Castle in honour of 26-County President Michael D Higgins, who will arrive in England tomorrow for a State visit. Yesterday afternoon Sinn Fein confirmed that McGuinness had accepted an invitation to attend, and he addressed criticism by other Irish nationalists and republicans today.
He said he was “conscious” that this decision involves “political and symbolic challenges” for Irish republicans. “However, my presence alongside Peter Robinson brings an all-island dimension to this historic event,” he said.
Mr McGuinness previously welcomed the queen to Belfast in 2011 in his role as the Six-County Deputy First Minister, but did not attend a banquet in her honour.
There appeared to be no official motivation for his attendance at this week’s banquet, but his decision to go may be related to electoral considerations.
With little opposition from its traditional nationalist rivals in the SDLP and with other republican groups yet to present a meaningful electoral challenge, Sinn Fein is said to be hoping support from moderate unionists and pro-Union Catholics will help it to become the largest party in the Six Counties for the first time.
However, he claimed his attendance marked another step in the peace process, and that he remained a loyal Irish republican.
“As the record of the Peace Process demonstrates Irish republicans have always been prepared to take decisions and risks for peace and reconciliation,” he said.
“I am an Irish republican. A united Ireland has been, and continues to be, the primary objective of my political life. I want to see an end to Partition and unity of the Irish people through a genuine process of reconciliation based on equality and tolerance.
“I want an Ireland in which one can be British or Irish and live in harmony and mutual respect with their neighbours,” he added.
There was a wave of disquiet among Sinn Fein’s grassroots, particularly in Derry, although none have voiced their opinions publicly.
Meanwhile, traditional republican organisations saw McGuinness’s decision to attend the banquet by Elizabeth Windsor -- the commander in chief of the British armed forces -- as a confirmation of their view that Sinn Fein want their ‘snout in the trough’.
Eirigi press officer Stephen Murney said that as McGuinness dined at Windsor “families across the country have to rely on food banks to survive”.
He warned that those who “rightly” oppose his attendance would be accused of being ‘anti-peace’.
“What will be going through his head when he has to stand for ‘God save the queen’?” he asked. “Amazing that this is the same man who had the audacity to call Republicans ‘traitors’.”