LONDON (AP) — The Irish Republican Army-linked Sinn Fein party says one of its leaders, Martin McGuinness, will meet Queen Elizabeth II next week — a once-unthinkable symbol of progress toward peace in Northern Ireland.
Sinn Fein leaders declined to meet the queen last year during her first state visit to the neighboring Republic of Ireland, arguing it was still too soon since the end of decades of conflict and bloodshed.
But party President Gerry Adams said Friday the party has decided McGuinness should meet the monarch, a decision that is sure to meet opposition from some Irish republicans, who want to end British rule in Northern Ireland.
“We don’t have to do it. We’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do, despite the fact that it will cause difficulties for our own folk,” Adams said.
“But it’s good for Ireland. It’s good for this process we’re trying to develop. It’s the right time and the right reason,” he added.
Buckingham Palace said it understood McGuinness had been invited to Wednesday’s event in Belfast for the Co-operation Ireland charity, which works to bring Catholic and Protestant communities together.
Even if the meeting amounts to little more than a quick handshake, it will have great symbolic value.
It was a sign of progress toward peace that the royal visit was announced several weeks in advance.
The queen has regularly visited Northern Ireland over the past four decades of bloodshed, but none of her previous visits had been announced even a minute ahead of time to minimize the risk of attack.
Threats against the royal family have been real, as evidenced by the Provisional IRA’s 1979 assassination of Lord Louis Mountbatten, Prince Philip’s 79-year-old uncle. Several small IRA splinter groups still launch gun and bomb attacks in Northern Ireland.
But the situation has been transformed since the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 brought a virtual end to a conflict, known as “the Troubles,” that saw about 3,000 deaths over three decades.
Political reconciliation has advanced rapidly since 2005, when the Provisional IRA renounced violence and disarmed, and 2007, when Sinn Fein entered a power-sharing government alongside Northern Ireland’s British Protestant majority. Their unlikely coalition has proved remarkably stable.View Entire Story
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