Historic handshake: Queen meets Martin McGuinness
QUEEN Elizabeth has shaken hands with Martin McGuinness in a gesture that means as much to the peace process as her groundbreaking visit to Ireland last year.
The British monarch and the North’s deputy first minister met briefly when the Queen visited a theatre in Belfast to view an art exhibition.
A television cameraman and stills photographer were allowed to capture the historic moment, but no members of the public were allowed within a mile of the venue as police imposed a total exclusion zone amid fears of a terrorist attack.
Mr McGuinness, as he held the monarch's hands for a few moments, spoke to her in Irish and told her the words meant: "Goodbye and God speed."
In stark contrast to the cheering crowds who greeted the Queen when she visited Enniskillen yesterday, the sovereign was driven through deserted streets in a bullet-proof car for the meeting with the Sinn Fein MP.
Sections of the nationalist community are vehemently opposed to the meeting between the Queen and Mr McGuinness.
The significance of the meeting can hardly be overstated; Mr McGuinness was allegedly a senior IRA commander at the time the terrorist group murdered Earl Mountbatten, a cousin of the Queen and uncle of the Duke of Edinburgh, in 1979, and for decades the Queen was a prime target for the IRA.
Mr McGuinness has said he had left the IRA by the time of Earl Mountbatten’s murder.
Politicians on both sides of the political divide have praised both the Queen and Mr McGuinness for their courage in going ahead with the meeting.
Some victims of IRA attacks believe it is wrong for the Queen to shake Mr McGuinness’s hand, while Mr McGuinness has been criticised by some republicans for engaging with the woman who symbolises British rule.
Overnight more than 100 protestors fought running battles with police in Belfast, throwing 21 petrol bombs and injuring nine officers.
Every vehicle was removed from the roads around the Lyric Theatre, and no pedestrians were allowed in or out of the one-mile exclusion zone.