- Professor of Irish Studies Jim McAuley on the political landmark created by The Queen being welcomed to Northern Ireland by Sinn Féin politician Martin McGuinness.
“While the ground has been well prepared for the meeting of The Queen with leading Sinn Féin politician (and former IRA commander) Martin McGuinness in his role as Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister it remains a major political landmark.
Following the (painfully slow) implementation of the Belfast Agreement and devolved government, much effort has been directed in seeking to normalise relations between nationalism and unionism and between the British and Irish states.
Huge steps were made along this path with The Queen’s visit to Ireland last year, during which time she laid a wreath at the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin, which honours republicans who died fighting British rule and spoke in Irish at the official banquet.
We are a long way from the days when a visit by The Queen would be met by intensified IRA violence and widespread protests across republican areas. Witness her 1977 Silver Jubilee visit to Northern Ireland that was ushered in by an intensification of IRA violence and widespread street protests by Republicans.
That is not to say that the decision taken by Sinn Féin has been an easy one. It has been met by derision from Republican dissidents who claim that the event marks a final abandonment of republican principles by Sinn Féin. The unionist right has also voiced its outrage. However, the decision reached will in the long-term strengthen the peace process. Some unionists may recognise it as a conciliatory gesture, and it will certainly allow Sinn Féin to strengthen its credentials as modern ‘post-conflict’ party.”
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