In a sign of how deeply the peace process has transformed the political climate, the North's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness is indicating his willingness to meet with the Queen during her diamond jubilee celebrations in June.
McGuinness is Sinn Fein's Member of Parliament for Mid-Ulster and his party was the only major one not to participate in the Queen's historic royal visit to the Republic of Ireland last year, but in a dramatic about face in Dublin on Friday McGuinness said it was time for Irish republicans to "consider making new compromises."
This unprecedented decision, if it happens, is proof that republicans are on a "journey of reconciliation and dialogue with unionists," McGuinness said, in a report that ran in The Guardian.
"That means being prepared to set aside our own assumptions about the nature of that dialogue, in order to better understand the fears and apprehensions of protestants and unionists. I believe we have to listen unconditionally to what they have to say."
Although McGuinness refused to answer direct questions about whether he would meet the Queen he said "Big challenges lie ahead for all of us. Am I big enough to rise to those challenges? Absolutely, my track record shows that that is the case."
The fact that there is public discussion about the Queen coming to Northern Ireland during her jubilee year is proof, McGuinness said, of "how far we have come."
The Queen is expected to visit the North in June and her itinerary could include a trip to the Stormont parliament.
On reaching out further to unionists, McGuinness - who was speaking at a pan-European peace and security conference in Dublin - said "we are up for a bit of brain storming with others" to help copper fasten reconciliation with unionists.
During questioning from the press McGuinness angrily dismissed claims made last week by former army intelligence officer Ian Hurst that he had personally sanctioned the assassination of two top Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers in 1989. The deaths of the two senior officers are the subject of a ongoing public inquiry in Dublin.
Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Detective Inspector Bob Buchanan were murdered in an IRA returning from a joint RUC-Irish Police Force security conference at Dundalk Garda station in the Irish Republic. The ongoing inquiry has been set up to investigate claims that rogue members of the Irish police force provided tip-offs that helped the IRA target the two most senior RUC men killed during the course of the Troubles.
Hurst who helped run a number of key informers within the IRA for army intelligence told the Smithwick tribunal this week that as head of the Provisional IRA's Northern Command at the time Martin McGuinness gave the go-ahead for the operation to ambush and kill Breen and Buchanan.
While McGuinness admitted he was second in command of the IRA in Derry, in the early 1970s, he insisted on Friday that he had no knowledge whatsoever of the Breen-Buchanan murder plot.
McGuinness described Hurst's testimony as a "yarn" and a "cock and bull story," and described the ex-Force Research Unit officer as a "fantasist." Hurst is the only witness to the Smithwick tribunal that has been denied the right to give his evidence in public.
"I wasn't the only person to have repudiated what he had to say. His superior officer in British Intelligence who appeared at the tribunal named as Witness 82 and a Garda Superintendent said so."
Earlier, addressing guests at Ireland's first ever hosting of the Organisation for Security and Co-Operation in Europe conference – held to discuss how Northern Ireland can be a model for other peace processes around the world – McGuinness said: "The war is over. The conflict is over. There will be no going back."
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