In a seemingly simple gesture that would have been unthinkable not too long ago, Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland Martin McGuinness and Queen Elizabeth II shook hands for the first time, on June 27 in Belfast.
During the Queen’s two-day visit to Northern Ireland (part of her Diamond Jubilee celebration), in a private room at the Lyric Theatre, they shook hands as Northern Ireland’s First Minister Peter Robinson and President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins, among others, looked on. They repeated the exchange later in public, and McGuinness bade the queen “Slán agus Beannacht.”
The handshake was a highly significant sign of progress, and an important step following the Queen’s 2011 visit to Dublin, which Sinn Féin did not participate in.
A few days before the meeting, McGuinness, who was once a commander in the IRA, acknowledged the tension underlying the gesture of reconciliation.“I represent people who have been terribly hurt by British state violence over many years. I also recognize I am going to meet someone who has also been hurt as a result of the conflict, and someone who is very conscious that in many homes in Britain there are parents, wives, children, brothers and sisters of British soldiers who were sent here who lost their lives in the conflict,” he said.
Reflecting on the handshake in a speech at a Sinn Féin event at Westminster, McGuinness described the moment as “a result of decades of work constructing the Irish peace process.” Click HERE to read McGuinness’ speech.