British-Irish relations have taken a momentous step forward when The Queen shook hands in public with Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness.
The historic encounter between the former IRA commander – now Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister – and Queen Elizabeth II was unthinkable a little over 10 years ago.
But the success of the peace process and Queen Elizabeth’s acclaimed visit to the Republic of Ireland last year, when her conciliatory words and gestures won over many critics of the monarchy, paved the way for their meeting.
The Queen and Mr McGuinness first shook hands away from the media spotlight behind closed doors. They met in a room within Belfast’s Lyric theatre during an event celebrating the arts in the Republic and Northern Ireland.
But later, as The Queen left to continue her Diamond Jubilee tour of Northern Ireland, the pair shook hands again, this time in public.
As they shook hands for a second time, Mr McGuinness wished Queen Elizabeth well in Irish and told her that the phrase meant: “Goodbye and God’s speed.”
A Sinn Fein spokesman said: “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 Queen Elizabeth of the significance of her visit, and of the need for it to be built upon in the time ahead. Sinn Fein said Mr McGuinness told the Queen that their meeting was a “powerful signal that peace-building requires leadership”.
Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson earlier met Mr McGuinness and said: “It had obviously gone very well. This will move Northern Ireland on to a whole new plane. After all the trauma of Northern Ireland, everyone is looking forward. It is about a shared future, not a shared-out future.”