Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness is to meet the British monarch Elizabeth Windsor during her visit to the north of Ireland next week, it has been confirmed. McGuinness, a former IRA commander, is to meet Windsor, the commander-in-chief of the British Armed Forces, at a reception to celebrate the arts in Ireland.
Mr McGuinness and First Minister Peter Robinson have been invited to attend the Co-operation Ireland reception along with Irish President Michael D Higgins. It was announced by Sinn Féin this afternoon that McGuinness is to take up the invitation.
A decision to go ahead with meeting the queen was confirmed at a special Sinn Féin leadership meeting. It came despite a row over plans for a jubilee ‘party’ of twenty thousand unionists to take place at Stormont parliament buildings to greet the monarch on the same day.
The leak of the unionist rally plans almost scuppered the planned meeting between McGuinness and the queen, which had been expected to take place at Stormont.
Instead, the pair will now attend the Co-operation Ireland event, which is to focus on local artists. Both the Irish President and the queen are patrons of the organisation, and Mr McGuinness’s poetry is well known in Six-County literary circles.
In regard to the decision for the Deputy First Minister to greet Windsor at the Co-operation Ireland event, Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy said “We always were prepared to consider a genuine proposition and we have one on the table now.”
Sinn Féin said the meeting was about recognising the contribution the British monarch made during her visit to the 26 Counties last year.
Windsor’s comment at a royal banquet in Dublin Castle that “we can all see things which we wish had been done differently, or not at all” was considered a major breakthrough in Anglo-Irish relations by some media commentators.
Mr Murphy said, however, there were significant challenges for Irish republicans, due to Windsor’s status as head of the armed forces.
UDA paramilitary leader Jackie McDonald said he would welcome any meeting between Windsor and Mr McGuinness as a “step forward”.