Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has confirmed that Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness is to meet Queen Elizabeth during her visit to Belfast next week.
The meeting will take place at the Lyric Theater in Belfast at an event sponsored by Co-Operation Ireland. Ireland’s president Michael D.Higgins will also be in attendance
During a press conference on Friday afternoon, Adams confirmed that McGuinness will shake hands with Queen Elizabeth II next week.
However, there appears to be some question over whether photos of any handshake with the queen will be released or not given the political fallout for Sinn Fein.
The Queen and her husband, Prince Philip, will visit Northern Ireland on Tuesday and Wednesday as part of her United Kingdom-wide tour to mark her Diamond Jubilee.
Adams described it as a significant initiative involving major political and symbolic challenges for Irish republicans. He said it was the right decision at the right time and for the right reasons.
When asked by reporters if McGuinness would shake hands with the head of the British Monarch, Adams replied: "Any time any republican is involved, they fulfil the civic niceties, and we shake hands."
The meeting will take place at an event hosted by Co-operation Ireland which will will celebrate the arts and culture across Ireland.
"Because this involves Martin meeting the British monarch this will cause difficulty for Republicans and nationalists who have suffered at the hands of British forces in Ireland over many decades,” Adams said in a statement.
"However, in the context of conflict resolution and national reconciliation, as well as our own republican national objectives, the Sinn Fein Ard Chomhairle agreed that Martin should accept the invitation.
"This is a significant initiative involving major political and symbolic challenges for Irish republicans.”
This will be the first time for the Queen to meet a senior figure of Sinn Féin and a past member of the IRA, who killed her cousin Lord Mountbatten in Sligo in 1979.
Adams said that the unification of Ireland remained the party’s prime objective and the decision reflected Sinn Fein’s desire to embrace their unionist neighbors.
"I understand full well that this decision will be very difficult for people, especially victims of British crown forces. They will have genuine and understandable difficulties," he said. "It's very clear that these legacy issues will have to be dealt with. Today's decision is the right thing to do at the right time and for the right reasons."
The Sinn Fein leader asked for party members to respect their decision.
"I ask all Sinn Féin members and all republicans to support this initiative.”
Speaking about the announcement from Scotland at the British-Irish Council summit, Prime Minister Enda Kenny said the decision reflected a modern Ireland.
“The queen herself, when she spoke in Dublin Castle, said in hindsight if we could do things again there are some things that we might do differently, and some things that we wouldn’t do at all. We’re in a very different space in 2012. We’re in a modern era.”
The venue for next week’s meeting is yet to be confirmed by Co-operation Ireland, a charity dedicated to peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
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