Sunday 28 December 2014

McGuinness and queen hold first private meeting

David Young

Published 24/06/2014 | 02:30

Queen Elizabeth held her first one-to-one meeting with Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness at the start of a three-day visit to the North.

She had separate 10 minute audiences at Hillsborough Castle outside Belfast with Stormont First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Mr McGuinness.

It was the queen's third encounter with the Sinn Fein veteran and former IRA commander but their first one-to-one meeting. It provided more evidence of the on-going efforts to normalise relations between republicans and the British establishment in the post-conflict era.

Further proof will be exhibited publicly today when Mr McGuinness accompanies the queen and her husband Prince Philip on a tour of the old Crumlin Road jail in Belfast – a prison the politician was detained in himself during the Troubles.

Stalled

While relations between Sinn Fein and the royal family are seemingly thawing, the queen's latest visit comes at a time when a deep freeze has set in at the heart of the power-sharing institutions at Stormont.

Political progress on big ticket issues has stalled, with Mr McGuinness and DUP leader Mr Robinson unable to find consensus on how to deal with the long standing disputes – such as parades, flags and the past – that continue to block the road toward a fully shared society.

As with recent royal engagements involving Ireland, both north and south, the themes of reconciliation, regeneration and focusing on the future will be emphasised during the visit.

While past visits have seen the queen's itinerary closely guarded due to security fears, this week's engagements have been publicised in advance.

A packed day of engagements today includes a visit to the set of hit US fantasy drama 'Game Of Thrones' in east Belfast. The queen and duke will tour the Painthall studios where much of the popular HBO series is filmed.

Press Association

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