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History as McGuinness speaks at Tory conference

The Deputy First Minister becomes the first Sinn Féin rep to address the Conservative party conference.

McGuinness answers questions at this morning's Tory Fringe meeting.
McGuinness answers questions at this morning's Tory Fringe meeting.
Image: David Jones/PA Wire

MARTIN MCGUINNESS today made history by becoming the first Sinn Féin politician to address the Conservative Party conference.

The Deputy First Minister addressed a breakfast meeting organised by non-profit organisation Champ, which encourages dialogue between the sectarian factions of Northern Ireland.

The breakfast was held at the Tory Fringe, which discusses key issues in the UK’s policy agenda. RTÉ reports that McGuiness spoke on the Northern Ireland budget.

The visit – though not universally welcomed by Conservative activists – was a major sign of healing in relations between the two parties, and is particularly symbolic given the IRA attack on the Tory conference in 1984 when a bomb attack nearly hit incumbent prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

“I’ve been travelling through Britain since 1994 since the ceasefire and all I get is welcoming remarks from people in the street,” McGuinness said, according to AFP.

“People saying, ‘Well done, keep up the good work’,” he added.

Conor McGinn of Champ has previously defended McGuinness’s invitation, saying he had been invited to a similar event held before the Labour Party conference last year.

“The Northern Ireland breakfast is one of the annual fixtures at the conference of the party in government. Leading politicians from Northern Ireland from all parties, along with the secretary of state, have been invited,” he had explained.

McGuinness denied that this morning’s car bomb attack in Derry City, his hometown, was related to his visit, and described the perpetrators of the attack as ‘Neanderthals‘.

This year’s Conservative conference is the first in which the party has been in government since 1996.

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Gavan Reilly

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