Attending queen's state dinner is not surrender – McGuinness
Published 07/04/2014 | 02:30
SINN Fein's Martin McGuinness insists his attendance at a dinner with Queen Elizabeth is not a "signal of surrender" of his desire to see a united Ireland.
Mr McGuinness, who is a former IRA commander, accepted the invitation to the state dinner in honour of President Michael D Higgins at Windsor Castle tomorrow evening following a meeting of Sinn Fein's officer board on Saturday.
Mr Higgins begins his historic state visit to Britain later today.
Mr McGuinness said that he was an Irish republican and a united Ireland continued to be the primary objective of his political life.
"I want to see an end to the partition of my country. But I am conscious that this decision is very significant and involves political, symbolic challenges for Irish republicans," he said.
"But my presence alongside Peter Robinson and the President brings an all-island approach to this historic event which has taken 93 years to happen," he said.
Mr McGuinness said his invitation was "something she (Queen Elizabeth) wanted to do, and was not told to do it by the Government".
Taoiseach Enda Kenny welcomed the decision, saying that people had to "move on and not be blocked by the past".
Mr Kenny, speaking to the BBC's Andrew Marr, said he "didn't see why (Mr McGuinness) shouldn't attend". He said: "This is all part of the building of relationships between the two countries and peoples on both sides of a divide. He's an elected member of the executive services, Deputy First Minister – we've got to move on and not be blocked by the past."
The queen met and shook hands with Mr McGuinness in Belfast two years ago, in what was seen as another step forward in Anglo-Irish relations.
The gesture that would have been unthinkable just years earlier was also a momentous landmark in the peace process.
The queen is said to have taken a keen interest in the preparations for the visit – the first time an Irish head of state has been formally invited to the UK by a British sovereign.
It had been discussed tentatively by the British government that there could be a visit by president Patrick Hillery, who served from 1976 until 1990, but the idea was "shot down" due to the political situation in Northern Ireland and the perception that the unionist community would see it as an affront, UCD's Diarmaid Ferriter said.