SINN FÉIN’S Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, has said his handshake with Queen Elizabeth has the potential to define “a new relationship” between Britain and a united Ireland.
Speaking at a party event in London last night, McGuinness said his brief meeting with the Queen on Wednesday had been “highly political”, “highly significant” and “highly symbolic” – describing his handshake with the Queen as “momentous”.
McGuinness said that although their meeting was relatively brief, it had the possibility of “defining a new relationship between Britain and Ireland and between the Irish people themselves”.
The Deputy First Minister tempered his remarks, however, by insisting a united Ireland was still a legitimate aim – and demanding an acknowledgement from Britain of its role “as a combatant” in the conflict in the North.
“That position is no longer tenable as we move forward,” McGuinness said. “It is insulting to victims of events like Bloody Sunday in my own city when 14 people were killed and it is insulting to people’s intelligence.
It is also excluding the British state from assisting a genuine process of national reconciliation in Ireland – a process which, though embryonic, is nevertheless underway.
The veteran republican said a lasting reconciliation between the main communities on the island could “not be built on a shaky foundation of people questioning the legitimacy of positions adopted over the course of the conflict” – or, he added, by attempts “to demean and denigrate” the parties who were involved in it.
“National reconciliation will be built on the firm foundation of mutual respect and decisive actions. That is the context within which I met Queen Elizabeth this week,” he said.
I was in a very pointed, deliberate and symbolic way offering the hand of friendship to unionists through the person of Queen Elizabeth for which many unionists have a deep affinity.
It is an offer I hope many will accept in the same spirit it was offered.
McGuinness also described the partition of Ireland as an “outdated relic of the past” and a “symbol of political failure” – and said seeking to resolve it was a challenge for the Irish government itself.
“For too long successive Irish governments have paid lip service to partition,” McGuinness claimed. ”They have tolerated the division of our country and people which has resulted in Ireland as a nation not reaching our full potential.
“In future ending partition and national reunification need to become Irish government policy not merely an aspiration goal.”