McGuinness and queen hold first private meeting
DEPUTY leader of Sinn Fein Martin McGuinness took part in his first one-on-one meeting with the queen last night.
The historic encounter came on the first day of Britain's Queen Elizabeth's 21st visit to Northern Ireland.
The Sinn Fein veteran and former IRA commander described his 10-minute private audience with the monarch at Hillsborough Castle as "very nice" and "useful".
It was the queen's third encounter with Mr McGuinness but their first on an individual-to-individual basis.
Emerging from the meeting, Mr McGuinness said he has reached out and called on other political leaders to also reach out. "I am a proud Irish republican and as such I am committed to working towards reconciliation and promoting mutual respect and tolerance among all the people of this island," he said.
"Reconciliation requires bold gestures and this is the third time I have met with Queen Elizabeth as part of that continuing process.
"I think from the contributions made by Queen Elizabeth it's quite clear indeed – her visit to Dublin, meeting me in Belfast two years ago, the visit to Windsor Castle and again today – that she is someone who absolutely and passionately supports the peace process."
The Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister will today accompany the queen and the Duke of Edinburgh on a tour of the old Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast.
Before meeting Mr McGuinness yesterday evening, the queen also had an audience with First Minister Peter Robinson. The DUP leader noted the significance of her encounter with Mr McGuinness.
"I think the fact the Deputy First Minister is in sitting with an audience with the queen at this moment perhaps demonstrates just how far we have come," he said.
The royal couple landed earlier yesterday evening at George Best Belfast City Airport where they were met by Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers and former Olympic champion and now Lord Lieutenant of Belfast Dame Mary Peters.