Martin McGuinness, the English Queen, and that handshake

  • Gerry Adams, The ExaminerVisit is expression of our desire to engage with our unionist neighbours: THE engagement in Belfast this week involving the President of Ireland, the Queen of England and the North’s First and Deputy First Ministers Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness carries with it significant symbolic, political and emotional resonance for the people of Ireland. Sinn Féin is very mindful that the Irish republican and nationalist experience with the British monarchy and the British state over centuries has been tragic and difficult.
    The vexed and unresolved issue of sovereignty is at the heart of the flawed relationship between the island of Ireland and our nearest neighbour.We are also conscious that there will be some victims of British state violence who may object to and be upset by such a meeting.However, in the context of conflict resolution and national reconciliation, as well as our republican objectives, Sinn Féin’s Ard Comhairle agreed that Martin McGuinness should accept the invitation to attend the engagement organised by Co-operation Ireland. As an Irish republican party our core republican beliefs are rooted in the ethos and philosophy of Wolfe Tone and the United Irish Society, who sought the unity of Catholics, Protestants and dissenters.

    Sinn Féin is an unashamedly Irish republican party. We are against elites or aristocracies or monarchies or golden circles of any kind. Republicans are also in the business of nation building. We want a new agreed Ireland based on the rights of citizens.

    We acknowledge the British Queen’s place in the hearts and minds and sentiments of the unionist community, though as republicans we do not subscribe to the idea of royalty or monarchy. This meeting is therefore a meeting of equals.

    Last year, Queen Elizabeth II visited Dublin. Sinn Féin declined to participate. That was exactly the right decision. That visit marked a rapprochement in relations between that state and the British monarchy. That was a good thing. It took 100 years to achieve.

    In the course of her visit, the Queen of England made some important gestures and remarks, including an acknowledgement of the pain of all victims, which demonstrated the beginning of a new understanding and acceptance of the realities of past. I welcomed that at the time and said it should be built upon.

    This is a different visit — in a different context.

    This week’s meeting is a clear expression of our desire to engage with our unionist neighbours and to demonstrate that we are prepared, once again to go beyond 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.

    Unionists don’t need me to tell them that they have lived on this island for centuries. This is their home. It is where they belong and it is where they will remain.

    Our Protestant neighbours also have a proud history of progressive and radical thinking. The founders of Irish republicanism where mainly Protestant. They were for the emancipation of their Catholic neighbours and for equality.

    This is a history which should be reclaimed by the people of the Shankill and Sandy Row, by the Protestants of Co Down and Antrim.

    Republicans are democrats and the new republic we seek is pluralist. An Ireland of equals in which there is space for all opinions and identities.

    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.

    Our vision of a new Republic is one in which, in Tone’s words, Orange and Green unite in a cordial union.

    The Ard Comhairle decision reflects a confident, dynamic, forward-looking Sinn Féin demonstrating our genuine desire to embrace our unionist neighbours.

    It reflects the equality and parity of esteem arrangements that are now in place. It will also create new platforms and open up a new phase in our relationships. It will be another important and necessary step on our collective journey.

    James Craig, the first unionist Prime Minister of the North recognised this when he said: “In this island we cannot live always separated from one another. We are too small to be apart or for the border to be there for all time. The change will not come in my time but it will come.”

    It is clear that legacy issues have to be dealt with and Sinn Féin will continue to engage in that work.

    By our actions Irish republicans will be judged, as well as our beliefs. We have to change Irish society now, North and South, to accommodate the unionist population and their cultural identity. The meeting between Martin McGuinness and the Queen of England will assist in that process.

    If the peace process has taught us anything, it is that the process cannot remain static. It must continue to expand and we must constantly build on the progress that has been made.

    This has required new thinking, generosity, and a determination to create space in which former enemies can find an accommodation in the common good. Friday’s Ard Comhairle decision reaffirms that Irish republicans continue to lead in this respect.

  • CNNQueen makes history with ex-IRA leader handshake: Adams said last week that Irish republicans have often been prepared to take bold initiatives in pursuit of peace.In his remarks Wednesday, he said: “Ireland is changing; it’s changing because of the peace process, it’s changing because of all the revelations of sleaze and scandals and corruption in this state, and it’s changing because of the economic crisis.”So people know we deserve a better society and republicans, like everyone else who thinks about the future and thinks about Ireland, want to be part of shaping that out, and the unionists are a very essential part of that equation.”
  • Press Association / YahooAdams: Build on historic meeting: “I think the significance will be seen in how much we can build upon it,” he said.
    “I think the vast majority of unionists will be pleased that this happened because they know it’s essentially a real gesture beyond the rhetoric towards their sense of identity and their sense of allegiance.”
    The Co Louth TD said the Irish and British states were on a journey which was nowhere near completion and that more must be done to build on progress made in Anglo-Irish relations.
    “There are issues yet that need to be brought to conclusion, specifically the issues of the legacy of the conflict,” said Mr Adams.
    “Both governments have a big role to play.”
  • Press Association / YahooMcGuinness-Queen handshake hailed: A Sinn Fein spokesman said of their conversation: “He emphasised the need to acknowledge the pain of all victims of the conflict and their families.”
    Mr McGuinness is said to have spoken to the Queen of the significance of her visit, and of the need for it to be built upon in the time ahead.
    The party said Mr McGuinness told the British monarch that their meeting was a “powerful signal that peace-building requires leadership”.
  • Agence France Presse / YahooQueen to shake hands with ex-IRA man McGuinness: In the eyes of republicans, the queen is commander-in-chief of an army that killed 13 people during a civil rights march in 1972, an event known as Bloody Sunday.
    Earlier this week McGuinness said that by shaking the queen’s hands he would be “shaking the hands of hundreds of thousands of unionists”.
    “I think that is a good thing. I think that is something that is very important to do, particularly in showing unionists that a spirit of generosity on all sides can pay huge dividends for all of us,” he said…
    Earlier there was unrest in the west of Belfast after Republicans erected a flag and sign saying “Eriu is our queen”, referring to a goddess of Irish mythology.
  • Irish CentralCongressman Peter King on how Queen’s historic handshake could lead to a United Ireland; Broad support for historic handshake: “I think the mechanisms are in place for a peaceful movement toward the unification, and Martin McGuinness as much as anyone personifies that.”
    “This is Martin McGuinness’s way of sending a message not just to Republicans, but also to Unionists that Sinn Fein and the Republican movement understand and appreciate the traditions of the Unionist community,” King said…
    According to King, who has compared Gerry Adams to George Washington in the past, the Queen’s visit to Ireland in May 2011 was a catalyst towards this symbolic move…
    “To me, the benefit of having basically the royal family of the United Kingdom acknowledging Martin McGuinness’s leadership role is such a significant step forward that it would be actually foolish not to take part.”
    But according to Sandy Boyer, producer and host of the Radio Free Éireann radio show on Saturday afternoons on WBAI in New York, many Republicans are outraged by the move.
    “To committed Republicans, it’s breaking their necks,” Boyer said.
    “It’s very hard. They have survived everything else, and they will survive this.”
    Boyer insists that many people were not surprised by Friday’s announcement.
    “This didn’t come out of the blue and people had a lot of time to get used to the idea,” he said…
    Democratic Congressman Richard Neal of Massachusetts, leader of the Friends of Ireland group in Congress and a vocal supporter of the peace process, told the Irish Voice he was surprised and pleased by the gesture.
    “None of us are more Irish than Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and John Hume,” he said. “If they say it’s okay, it’s okay for me.
    Neal commended Queen Elizabeth’s conciliatory comments in her speech at Dublin Castle last year, in which she expressed regret for the bloodshed caused by the British in Ireland.
    “If Margaret Thatcher when she visited decades ago could have used Queen Elizabeth’s words in Dublin, there would be a lot of innocent people still alive,” he reflected.
    “McGuinness and Adams did the time, there are others who just did the talking.”
  • The Irish VoiceThe last great symbolic moment as Queen Elizabeth meets Martin McGuinness: Nothing speaks to the Protestant identity in Northern Ireland like the Queen and all she represents. At any gathering of the tribe her picture is omnipresent and sacrosanct.
    In the same way, Martin McGuinness has embodied so much of the Sinn Fein rise throughout The Troubles.
    Once a leading IRA member, his part from revolutionary to politician has charted the march of Irish nationalism as it cast off its second class status in Northern Ireland and became a powerful and soon to be equal force.
    No one embodies that struggle like Martin McGuinness and his colleague Gerry Adams, so it is fitting that he was  be the standard bearer.
    What they say and what they do, the queen and the Republican is far less important than the  fact that they are both there together.
    In the history of the fight for Irish self-determination there is perhaps no other moment like it, a singular moment when a Republican meets a queen, not in any inferior posture but rather the equal.
  • The Phoenix, June 29, 2012, p.8 – “The Queen She Came to Call on Us”: Now that the Queen has met Martin McGuinness and shaken his hand it’s impossible for unionists to refuse to do the same… Many DUP MLAs still refuse to speak to Sinn Féin MLAs though they share the administration with them. The same is true in councils across the north. Now that’s an impossible position to sustain.
    As for the Queen, it was business as usual. The day after she met McGuinness she was back in London to open the controversial new Bomber Command Memorial. As Brendan Behan said, “it’s easy to spot the terrorist. He’s the man with the small bomb”.
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