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McGuinness and queen will shake hands in private

THE historic first handshake between Britain's Queen Elizabeth and Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness will take place behind closed doors.

The milestone event in Belfast next week will take place away from the glare of the world's media, it has emerged.

Instead it will take place in a private room where only a selected few will bear witness.

It is understood the handshake will be at the beginning of the queen's visit to the city.

Sinn Fein refused to meet the queen when she spent four days in the Republic last year.

But Martin McGuinness has now accepted an invitation to a Co-operation Ireland event for Queen Elizabeth and President Michael D Higgins on Wednesday. It celebrates arts and culture across the island of Ireland.


The North's Deputy First Minister and former IRA commander will become the first Sinn Fein leader ever to meet a British monarch.

The decision to meet the queen was taken by Sinn Fein's ard chomhairle, or governing body, in Dublin yesterday.

Following the meeting, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams confirmed Mr McGuinness would accept the invitation to attend.

He said it was the right thing to do but accepted it would still cause difficulty for some republicans.

"Because this involves Martin meeting the British monarch this will cause difficulty for republicans and nationalists who have suffered at the hands of British forces in Ireland over many decades," Mr Adams said.

"However, in the context of conflict resolution and national reconciliation, as well as our own republican national objectives, the Sinn Fein ard chomhairle agreed that Martin should accept the invitation.

"This is a significant initiative involving major political and symbolic challenges for Irish republicans."

In Britain, the Daily Express newspaper ran a frontpage headline today, saying The Bravery Of Our Forgiving Queen. Mr Adams said Sinn Fein was about nation-building and for an Ireland of equals in which there was space for everyone and for all identities..

"An Ireland in which all our citizens can live comfortably and in harmony and mutual respect. Sinn Fein is for a new dispensation in which a citizen can be Irish and unionist.

"Our vision of a new republic in which the Orange and Green unite in a cordial union," Mr Adams added.

"Today's decision reflects a confident, dynamic, foward looking Sinn Fein demonstrating our genuine desire to embrace our unionist neighbours," Mr Adams said.

The lunch at which the meeting will take place was unconnected with the queen's jubilee.

For Queen Elizabeth, who is also titular head of Britain's armed forces, it also represents a significant moment as she recognises the Sinn Fein leadership, observers said.

Her close relative, Louis Mountbatten, was killed when his boat was blown up by the IRA in Co Sligo in 1979.