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Queen Elizabeth shakes hands with Northern Ireland deputy first minister Martin McGuinness at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast this morning Photo by: Paul Faith/PA Wire

Mixed reaction among republicans and unionists as Queen Elizabeth and Martin McGuinness meet

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Queen Elizabeth shakes hands with Northern Ireland deputy first minister Martin McGuinness at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast this morning Photo by: Paul Faith/PA Wire

During her visit to Belfast on Wednesday, Queen Elizabeth offered what has quickly been pegged as a “historic” handshake to Northern Ireland’s First Deputy Minister and former IRA member Martin McGuinness. The meeting between the two has since drawn mixed reactions.

Some have looked to the handshake between McGuinness and the Queen as a significant marker in the end of The Troubles between Ireland and Britain, while others have described it as a “sell-out.”

Politicians, clergymen and the public all offered an array of opinions on the meeting between McGuinness and the Queen at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast. The initial handshake occurred behind closed doors, while the second was more public as the parties were exiting the venue.

Following much speculation, McGuinness said hello and goodbye to the British monarch in Irish. Said Martin McGuinness to the Queen: “Maidin mhaith, Cead mile failte” meaning "Good morning, A hundred thousand welcomes,” and "Slan agus beannacht" meaning "Goodbye and farewell.”

The Guardian reports that on hand for the historic meeting in a sparsely furnished suite at the Lyric Theatre were Queen Elizabeth, Martin McGuinness, the Duke of Edinburgh, Irish president Michael Higgins, his wife Sabina, Northern Ireland's first minister Peter Robinson, and the Queen's private secretary Sir Christopher Geidt.

President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins said following the meeting,“I greatly welcome the fact that this morning’s event was a very inclusive occasion involving the participation of the First and deputy First Ministers”.

“The exchange of greetings and courtesies that took place this morning marks another important step on the journey to reconciliation on this island.”

Northern Ireland secretary Owen Paterson offered comments following the meeting saying: "This will move Northern Ireland on to a whole new plane. After all the trauma of Northern Ireland, everyone is looking forward."

The Irish Independent reports that Presbyterian minister and Derry native Rev David Latimer, who famously addressed the Sinn Fein annual conference last year, said, “Let me tell you this, and tell you it with all my heart, Martin McGuinness is a peacemaker.”

"He is wanting to shape things,” added Rev Latimer, “so that both communities will be able to move closer together, to become friendly allies and never again need to think of becoming warring adversaries."

"Today is a moment in history that I think that people will look back to, and they will see that something happened to send out a message to everybody that this peace process is not a dream we're living in."

Not everyone was so optimistic about the meeting between the Queen and the First Deputy. Republicans from Falls Road in Belfast who were speaking with Newstalk’s Henry McKean likened the meeting of the Queen and McGuinness to having “Spat on the graves of their comrades and their lost loved ones.”

McKean asked if they considered the handshake a symbolic moment. “Not in my eyes, no. And I believe not in many people’s on this [Falls] road or any Republican areas’ eyes; I believe it’s a sell out.”

“Their whole political status was for Irish freedom,” the Republicans said speaking of Sinn Fein, “and it’s still not a united Ireland yet.”

McKean asked if the handshake was a form of surrender, to which the men responded “It is, yeah. It’s more or less, they can fly their flag over Ireland and we go by their rules.”

Still, more than not people seem to be focusing on a brighter future between Britain and Ireland following the meeting on Wednesday.

The Belfast Telegraph reports that the president of Sinn Fein, Gerry Adams, commented on the occasion by saying "What happened today is a very, very good thing indeed, and again, I come back to it - will it be significant beyond the novelty or beyond the symbolism? That's up to us.”

"I think the significance will be seen in how much we can build upon it," Adams added.

"I think the vast majority of unionists will be pleased that this happened because they know it's essentially a real gesture beyond the rhetoric towards their sense of identity and their sense of allegiance."

While Adams is both pleased and optimistic about the change that the historic handshake could incur, he is realistic in the notion that there is still plenty of work to be done. Said Adams, “There are issues yet that need to be brought to conclusion, specifically the issues of the legacy of the conflict. Both governments have a big role to play.”

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