Queen meets Martin McGuinness: the gloves are on
Government hopes historic step will reinforce peace process – but some say Cameron should be ashamed of himself
WHEN Northern Ireland's deputy first minister and former IRA commander Martin McGuinness meets and shakes hands with the Queen today in a private room of a Belfast theatre, where the pair are due to attend a charity reception, it will be another historic step along the road to reconciliation and peace in the province.
McGuinness, a leading light of the republican Sinn Fein party which still campaigns for a united Ireland, is portraying it as a gesture towards unionists in Northern Ireland: "By shaking the hand of Queen Elizabeth I am effectively, symbolically, shaking the hands of hundreds of thousands of Unionists."
But what, asks Andrew Pierce in the Daily Mail, is the Queen getting out of it? "On the advice of her government, which she feels she can't resist, she will shake hands with former terrorist turned double-dealing politician." David Cameron should be ashamed at putting the Queen in such an awkward position, says Pierce, who hopes the monarch has disposable gloves with which to greet McGuinness.
The Mail's editorial goes a step further, suggesting that before "performing one of the most distasteful duties of her reign" Her Majesty may "care to wear gloves – and burn them afterwards”.
There are "difficult memories" for the Queen in all this, says Lord Bew in the Daily Telegraph: her cousin Lord Mountbatten was murdered by the IRA in Sligo in 1979, and the organisation targeted her children and even herself and her husband on a trip to Northern Ireland in the 1970s. But the gain for the "British Government... is simple. It wishes to reinforce the peace process and make it irreversible."
From a republican perspective, writes former IRA prisoner Dr Anthony McIntyre in the Guardian, the handshake will be seen as a "betrayal". Graffiti has already appeared in McGuinness' home county of Derry calling him a "Sinn Fein sellout", and he has been denounced at rallies as a "traitor". Those opposed to the handshake are not "past-hugging dinosaurs", warns McIntyre.
"'Queen shakes hands with IRA' would once have caused a sensation," observes Simon Jenkins in the Guardian. While this is a "happy milestone" there remains little reconciliation on the ground in Northern Ireland - indeed "most of Belfast has merely been segregated". With "80 barriers and 'peace walls' dividing its urban and suburban neighbourhoods, three times as many as at the time of the partial ceasefire in 1994," there is still work to be done.