Monday 18 December 2017

Britain's Queen Elizabeth begins Northern Ireland visit to meet Martin McGuinness and Arlene Foster

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II meets Martin McGuinness at Hillsborough Castle, Belfast, at the beginning of a two day Royal visit to Northern Ireland. Photo: Aaron McCracken/ Harrisons/ PA Wire
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II meets Martin McGuinness at Hillsborough Castle, Belfast, at the beginning of a two day Royal visit to Northern Ireland. Photo: Aaron McCracken/ Harrisons/ PA Wire
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II meets Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster at Hillsborough Castle, Belfast. Photo: Aaron McCracken/Harrisons/PA Wire

David Young

Northern Ireland's political leaders have refused to be drawn on whether the Brexit furore was discussed during their meetings with the Queen.

Stormont First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness had separate 20-minute audiences with the monarch after she and the Duke of Edinburgh arrived for a two-day visit to the region.

It is the Queen's first round of public engagements since the UK voted to leave the European Union.

After their meetings at Hillsborough Castle, Mrs Foster and Mr McGuinness batted away questions on whether the referendum was talked about.

Democratic Unionist leader Mrs Foster said the Queen touched on a "wide range of issues".

"I have just had an audience with the Queen and obviously I am not going to talk about the contents of that," she said.

Sinn Fein veteran Mr McGuinness, who has met the Queen on a number of occasions since their first historic encounter in 2012, said: "We discussed many things, none of which I will tell you."

He added: "We had a very good engagement for about 20 minutes where we did talk about many things."

Mr McGuinness also paid tribute to the Queen's contribution to the peace process.

"I am an unapologetic Irish republican and I value very much the contribution Queen Elizabeth has made to the peace process and to reconciliation," he said.

In Northern Ireland, 56% of voters backed Remain in the referendum. The outcome has prompted Sinn Fein to call for a border poll on Irish unity - a demand the UK Government has rejected.

While Sinn Fein and the DUP share power in the coalition executive in Belfast, they were on different sides of the Brexit debate.

Mrs Foster, a Leave advocate, pledged to work with Sinn Fein to jointly respond to the consequences of the vote.

"We said before the referendum we would work together to deal with the issues and that's what we intend to do," she said.

A crowd of well-wishers gathered at the gates of Hillsborough Castle as the royal couple arrived on Monday evening.

On Tuesday, the Queen and Philip will head to Northern Ireland's scenic north coast for a series of engagements.

They will tour the famous Giant's Causeway stones and visit the nearby village of Bushmills, where they will unveil a statue to local Victoria Cross winner Robert Quigg.

The Co Antrim-born soldier was awarded the highest military honour for bravery during the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

The royal couple will also attend a reception at Royal Portrush Golf Club. The seaside course is due to host the Open Championship in 2019.

In a full day of engagements, the Queen and the Duke will also take a steam train journey to the newly opened Bellarena station on the historic Coleraine to Londonderry line.

The trip is the third high-profile royal visit to Northern Ireland in a matter of weeks, after appearances by the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

Press Association

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