The historic meeting of Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness and Queen Elizabeth II in Belfast on Wednesday has been heralded as a step towards a united Ireland by political figures in the U.S.
Republican Congressman Peter King, a long-time supporter of Sinn Fein, said Wednesday’s meeting will help advance the cause of a sovereign state.
“Martin McGuinness’s whole career has been based on the quest for a united Ireland,” King told the Irish Voice. “To have the Queen now meet him and acknowledge his leadership position shows that unification is now a viable possibility.
“I think the mechanisms are in place for a peaceful movement toward the unification. and Martin McGuinness as much as anyone personifies that.”
King said the meeting symbolizes Sinn Fein’s respect for their Unionist neighbors.
“This is Martin McGuinness’s way of sending a message not just to Republicans, but also to Unionists that Sinn Fein and the Republican movement understand and appreciate the traditions of the Unionist community,” King said.
In the past both McGuinness and Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams have served time in jail for their involvement with the now defunct IRA.
“Martin McGuinness couldn’t even be on Irish radio 20 years ago, and now he’s meeting with the Queen of England. So that’s just an example of how far he’s come, and he’s meeting with the Queen without sacrificing any principle,” King said.
The Queen and her husband, Prince Philip, visited Northern Ireland on Tuesday and Wednesday as part of her United Kingdom-wide tour to mark her Diamond Jubilee.
According to King, who has compared Gerry Adams to George Washington in the past, the Queen’s visit to Ireland in May 2011 was a catalyst towards this symbolic move.
"The fact that she visited the 1916 memorial in Dublin, I thought the royal family was now willing to take this step,” he said.
“To me, the benefit of having basically the royal family of the United Kingdom acknowledging Martin
McGuinness’s leadership role is such a significant step forward that it would be actually foolish not to take part.”
But according to Sandy Boyer, producer and host of the Radio Free Éireann radio show on Saturday afternoons on WBAI in New York, many Republicans are outraged by the move.
“To committed Republicans, it’s breaking their necks,” Boyer said.
“It’s very hard. They have survived everything else, and they will survive this.”
Boyer insists that many people were not surprised by Friday’s announcement.
“This didn’t come out of the blue and people had a lot of time to get used to the idea,” he said.
Democratic Congressman Richard Neal of Massachusetts, leader of the Friends of Ireland group in Congress and a vocal supporter of the peace process, told the Irish Voice he was surprised and pleased by the gesture.
“None of us are more Irish than Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and John Hume,” he said. “If they say it’s okay, it’s okay for me.
Neal commended Queen Elizabeth's conciliatory comments in her speech at Dublin Castle last year, in which she expressed regret for the bloodshed caused by the British in Ireland.
“If Margaret Thatcher when she visited decades ago could have used Queen Elizabeth’s words in Dublin, there would be a lot of innocent people still alive,” he reflected.
“McGuinness and Adams did the time, there are others who just did the talking.”