‘An historic handsake’ - Gesture can open new chapter - McGuinness

Queen Elizabeth II shakes hands with Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness watched by First minister Peter Robinson at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast.
Queen Elizabeth II shakes hands with Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness watched by First minister Peter Robinson at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast.

Martin McGuinness says his “momentous” meeting with Queen Elizabeth II opens up a “highly symbolic” new chapter in Anglo-Irish relations.

The North’s Deputy First Minister, speaking at a party event in London last night, said Wednesday’s historic meeting could become a “key building block” in a “new beginning” to the relationship between Ireland and Britain.

The Derry man said his historic handshake with the Queen was just one of “many momentous and, indeed, historical moments which have marked my 40 years in struggle”.

“Some have been highly political, others have been highly significant and some have been highly symbolic,” he said. “The meeting with Queen Elizabeth in Belfast embraced all of these things.”

“It was a meeting which, although short in length, can, I believe, have much longer effects on defining a new relationship between Britain and Ireland and between the Irish people themselves.”

The time was ripe, said Mr. McGuinness, for a “new fresh approach” to Irish-British relations.

Turning to what he described as the transformation of society in the North, Mr. McGuinness acknowledged that this had come at a “heavy price on all sides.”

“We are emerging from a conflict that resulted in lives being lost and families being devastated,” he said.

“I genuinely regret every single life that was lost during that conflict and today I want every family who lost a loved one to know that your pain is not being ignored and I am willing to work with others to find a way to deal with our past so that we can complete our journey to true reconciliation.”

The republican leader said he was “up for the challenge” of “dealing with our past.”

“That conversation will not be easy and the challenges will be great. However, I believe that, with dialogue and trust, we can develop a process that all of us can support and accept.”

Mr. McGuinness ended his speech with an appeal to unionists: “I respect unionists and I respect their identity. All I ask in return is respect for my Irishness and my Irish republican identity.”