This handshake would have been unimaginable just a handful of years ago. Sinn Féin is describing the decision to agree to today’s historic meeting between Martin McGuinness and Queen Elizabeth as an effort to reach out to the unionist community in Northern Ireland.
But for many around the world, the encounter will be seen as being far more than even that.
Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister will shake hands with Britain’s queen in Belfast during an event to celebrate the culture of Ireland. the gathering will also be attended by President Michael D. Higgins and North First Minister Peter Robinson.
The decision to meet and shake hands was announced on Friday of last week by Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams, this after a special Sinn Féin meeting in Dublin.
There has been a noted softening in Sinn Féin’s attitude towards the queen since her visit to Dublin last year where she laid a wreath at the
Garden of Remembrance in memory of those who fought and died in 1916.
In Belfast on Sunday, Adams told republicans that he opposed the idea of monarchy, but wanted to reassure unionists of their place in his vision of a united Ireland.
“This week’s meeting is a clear expression of our desire to engage with our unionist neighbors and to demonstrate that we are prepared, once again, to go beyond the rhetoric, as we seek to persuade them that our new Ireland will not be a cold house for unionists, or any other section of our people,” said Adams.
“Republicans are democrats and the new republic we seek is pluralist – now and in the future. It is an Ireland of equals in which there is space for everyone, and for all opinions and identities.”
Adams added: “So, Sinn Féin is for a new dispensation in which a citizen can be Irish and unionist. Where one can also claim Britishness and be comfortable on this island. It is an Ireland which would in a real and inclusive way live up to the ideals of the 1916 Proclamation and cherish all the children of the nation equally.”
The venue for the handshake is Belfast’s newly renovated Lyric Theatre where the charity, Co-operation Ireland, is hosting a celebration of culture on the island of Ireland.
While it has been reported that the handshake is expected to take place in private before the VIP guests join others at the event, the Sinn Féin president said that he had no objection to the handshake being photographed.
Speaking ahead of the meeting, Martin McGuinness said that when he shakes the queen’s hand he will be “extending the hand of peace and reconciliation to all my unionist brothers and sisters.”
“I’ve shaken the hands of many unionists over the course of this peace process, but it’s obviously physically impossible to shake the hands of every one of those hundreds of thousands.
“So symbolically, when shaking the hand of Queen Elizabeth, I’m extending the hand of peace and reconciliation to all my unionist brothers and sisters.”