Why Martin McGuinness should meet Queen Elizabeth

Martin McGuinness

Martin McGuinness should meet Queen Elizabeth when she visits Northern Ireland this month as part of her Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister has displayed an amazing political ability since taking office.

He befriended former First Minister Ian Paisley in an astonishing development that turned Northern Irish history on its head.

They were one of the oddest couples in political history, but thanks in no small way to McGuinness’s efforts they made the fledgling new government in Northern Ireland work.

Following Paisley’s retirement McGuinness worked very closely with the new First Minister Peter Robinson and forged a bond. McGuinness stood by Robinson when his wife’s marital difficulties threatened to end his political career.

It all required the delicate diplomacy of a master politician, and McGuinness has clearly displayed that ability.

Now comes an even more daunting task, meeting with the Queen when she is over on a triumphal tour of her colony this week.

In fairness to Elizabeth she did much of the outreach already during her visit to Dublin last year.

She paid homage to Republican heroes at the Garden of Remembrance and memorably used several words of Gaelic when she spoke at Dublin Castle.

Her outreach did not go unnoticed, and Sinn Fein has made many positive noises about a potential meeting.

The rubber hits the road this week, and clearly there are many considerations at stake on both sides.

For Sinn Fein the Queen is the nominal commander in chief of the British Army as well as the living symbol of the state that partitioned Ireland.

For the Queen there is the matter of Lord Mountbatten, one of her closest royal allies who was blown up by the IRA in 1979.

The Northern Irish peace process has been a remarkable success and so many barriers have been broken down that it is almost passé to point out how many.

But McGuinness, the head of Northern Ireland’s Republican party in the Assembly and a renowned former IRA commander sitting down with Queen Elizabeth would be history indeed.

Seamus Heaney remarked that hope and history should rhyme in Northern Ireland, and this is yet another of those occasions when they appear to.

The meeting should go ahead.