An overdue gesture that signals hope
Not since then US president Richard Nixon travelled to China to meet Chairman Mao in 1972 has so much effort been put into a handshake. The news that Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness will meet Queen Elizabeth II and shake her hand during the royal visit to the North next week is a welcome, even if long overdue and inadequate, gesture on Mr McGuinness's part.
It is now clear that Sinn Fein utterly misjudged the public mood during last year's royal visit to the Republic. By boycotting the visit Sinn Fein merely served to draw attention to its bloody and murky past -- a past that includes the murder of the queen's cousin Earl Mountbatten in 1979. At a time when Queen Elizabeth was winning southern hearts and minds, Sinn Fein's refusal to participate struck even those of a nationalist bent as churlish.
Quite clearly Sinn Fein is determined not to repeat its mistake this time. Instead of boycotting the queen's visit to the North, part of a tour of the UK to celebrate her 60 years on the throne, the party has agreed to an elaborately choreographed event, also to be attended by President Michael D Higgins, at which the queen and Mr McGuinness will meet and shake hands.