Michelle O’Neill has written to the Queen ahead of the monarch’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations.
The Sinn Fein vice-president referred to Her Majesty’s 70 years of “dedicated public service to the British people”, and praised her “significant contribution” to the peace process.
The letter, which has been seen by this newspaper, was sent around 10 days ago.
It describes the Platinum Jubilee as “an historic moment”, especially for unionists across the island of Ireland and beyond.
Ms O’Neill also refers to the Queen’s landmark meetings with Sinn Fein over the last decade.
In 2012 she shook hands with Martin McGuinness, the former IRA commander turned Deputy First Minister, during a visit to Northern Ireland. Two years later, Mr McGuinness joined in a toast to Her Majesty during a state banquet at Windsor Castle, held in honour of Irish President Michael D Higgins.
Ms O’Neill wrote: “Personally, I wish to thank you for your warmth and unfailing courtesy on the occasions in which both I and my late colleague Martin McGuinness met with you in 2012 in Belfast during your Diamond Jubilee, and thereafter at Windsor Castle during the State Visit of President of Ireland Michael D Higgins to the UK in 2014.”
Ms O’Neill also described the “value and respect” she has for the Queen’s “significant” contribution “to the advancement of peace and reconciliation between the different traditions on our island, and between our two islands during those years of the peace process”.
In February, Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald congratulated the Queen on her Platinum Jubilee, saying “70 years is quite some record”.
“That’s what you call a lifetime of service,” she said.
It came after the Assembly Commission agreed that a tree would be planted on the grounds of Stormont to mark the occasion.
In January, a row had broken out around the tree planting with Finance Minister Conor Murphy accused of blocking the move on ideological grounds by the DUP. Sinn Fein rejected the claim, insisting their minister was following rules.
The Queen (96) is the first British monarch in history to celebrate her Platinum Jubilee.
Last night, on the eve of the celebrations, the Queen thanked the nation, saying she continues to be inspired by the goodwill shown to her.
In a special message released as millions prepare to gather in her honour during four days of tributes and street parties, Her Majesty said “many happy memories” would be formed during the festivities.
She said she hoped the Jubilee weekend would provide an opportunity to reflect on the achievements of the last 70 years, and spoke of looking to the future with “confidence and enthusiasm”.
The Queen said: “Thank you to everyone who has been involved in convening communities, families, neighbours and friends to mark my Platinum Jubilee, in the United Kingdom and across the Commonwealth.
“I know that many happy memories will be created at these festive occasions.
“I continue to be inspired by the goodwill shown to me, and hope that the coming days will provide an opportunity to reflect on all that has been achieved during the last 70 years, as we look to the future with confidence and enthusiasm.”
It was signed Elizabeth R.
The Queen’s official Platinum Jubilee portrait was unveiled along with her message. The image was taken by photographer Ranald Mackechnie in the Victoria Vestibule in the Queen’s private apartments at Windsor.
The Queen, who has mobility problems, returned to her Windsor Castle home with her dogs on Tuesday after a pre-Jubilee a break at Balmoral as she paces herself ahead of the four days of festivities.
Her flight back to London was forced to abort a landing when her 13-seater plane was caught in a lightning storm.
The commemorations kick-start with the traditional Trooping the Colour military spectacle today, involving more than 1,500 officers and soldiers and 350 horses from the Household Division. Royal fans are hoping to see her appear on the balcony with her family for a special flypast, and possibly even review the troops.
In the evening, more than 3,000 beacons will be set ablaze across the UK and the Commonwealth in tribute to the Queen, with the principal Tree of Trees beacon illuminated outside the Palace.