Saturday, June 23, 2012

McGuinness to shake queen's hand behind closed doors

President Michael D Higgins will play a vital role in ensuring Sinn Fein comes in from the cold and meets the queen next week.

Queen Elizabeth II will shake hands with Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, the IRA commander when the queen's cousin Lord Louis Mountbatten was killed by a bomb in Mullaghmore, Co Sligo in 1979.

But the historic handshake -- a year after the queen's historic and very successful state visit to this country -- will take place behind closed doors.
Sinn Fein was viewed as botching their response to the queen's visit last year, and was under pressure this time to meet the monarch.

After months of prevarication, Sinn Fein finally agreed to Mr McGuinness meeting the queen during her visit to the North for her to mark the diamond jubilee celebrations of her 60 years on the throne.

Government ministers were critical of Sinn Fein's delay in agreeing to the meeting.
The meeting will take place at a cross-border event organised by the leading peace charity Co-operation Ireland. The event for the President and the queen will celebrate the arts and culture across the island at Belfast's Lyric Theatre on Wednesday.

Mr Higgins and the queen are patrons of the organisation and the President was involved in the arrangements for the event.

Mr Higgins' role in the occasion ensures there is an All-Ireland element and allows the claim it is not part of the jubilee celebrations, which Sinn Fein object to.

The initial meeting and handshake between the queen and Mr McGuinness is expected to take place in a private room at the beginning of the engagement.
The meeting is being seen as a major milestone in efforts to normalise relations between nationalists and unionists in Northern Ireland.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams confirmed his party's ruling executive had backed the planned meeting. "This will understandably cause difficulties for some republicans and nationalists, especially for those folks who suffered at the hands of British forces," he said. The ard comhairle decision was not unanimous but was a clear majority, the party confirmed. Sinn Fein has stressed the meeting is not a celebration of the jubilee.

Mr Adams said of the party's decision: "We don't have to do it. We're doing it because it's the right thing to do, despite the fact that it will cause difficulties for our own folk.

"But it's good for Ireland. It's good for this process we're trying to develop. It's the right time and the right reason."

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said a refusal to shake hands would have been a very retrograde step.

Speaking in Scotland at the British-Irish Council summit today, which was also attended by Mr McGuinness, Mr Kenny said he had been confident the handshake would be agreed to.

"The queen herself, when she spoke in Dublin Castle, said in hindsight if we could do things again there are some things that we might do differently, and some things that we wouldn't do at all," he said.
"We're in a very different space in 2012. We're in a modern era."

Transport Minister Leo Varadkar said if the queen was willing to shake Mr McGuinness' hand, then he should be willing to do the same.

Has anybody in this very poorly orchestrated fiasco ever heard of the term “transparency”? If the parties involved are willing to come together and shake hands, that simple gesture in itself is an indication that they do, in fact, recognize that they should have some form of working relationship albiet a tenuous one. It serves no purpose, whatsoever, for this grossly overplayed scenario to take place behind closed doors. Inevitably, there will be those who will invoke the “doubting Thomas” theory and question whether such a meeting ever took place. Would it not be far better for all parties to have the meeting take place in the open for all the world to see and thereby silence the flood of negative press coverage that is certain to follow a “secret meeting”?

Jack Meehan, 
Past National President
Ancient Order of Hibernians in America

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