Peace Processing

Former IRA Man Breaks Bread With HM

Paul Faith, Pool / AP Photo

The Royalist has been rather distracted of late by events in the Southern Hemisphere, however back home in the UK there's been a historic first - a state visit to the UK by the Irish president, Michael D Higgins, and the first minister of Northern Ireland, the former IRA commando Martin McGuinness.

McGuinness is widely believed to have a senior member of IRA staff when the Mullaghmore bombing which killed Prince Philip's uncle, Lord Mountbatten, was planned and executed in 1979.

The visit to the UK is essentially a return match for the Queen's visit to Ireland in 2011, but whereas McGuinness snubbed dinner on that visit (although he did shake hands with HM, see picture below) he's been a full participant in this trip, to the extent that last night he broke bread with the Queen and Prince Philip at a banquet at Windsor Castle.

Most sensible people are hailing this as an incredible victory for the Northern Irish peace process, but there are, understandably, some dissenting voices.

Lord Norman Tebbit - whose wife was seriously injured during the 1984 IRA bombing of the Grand Hotel in Brighton which targeted the Conservative Party conference - is one of those.

Lord Tebbit said today that the Queen had no choice about Mr McGuinness attending the State banquet at Windsor Castle last night but Lord Tebbit said, in comments reported by the Irish Times: “There’s always the possibility that a member of the Real IRA will be so outraged by Mr McGuinness bowing to the Queen that they might shoot him in the back for it. We can but hope.”Mr McGuinness said the reaction of the former Conservative chairman to his historic visit to the queen’s official residence and private home at Windsor was “not fitting” for someone who holds high political office.“Norman Tebbit too and his family have been very badly hurt by the conflict,” he said.“I absolutely understand that. Obviously the sentiments that he has expressed, I think, are not fitting for someone in the elected position he has been in for a very long time."

Mr McGuinness said he had no qualms about standing and joining in a toast to the queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and the people of the UK as an orchestra played God Save The Queen during the dinner.Mr McGuinness said he believed he had the “overwhelming support of the people of Ireland” when he joined in the toast to the queen, which followed a similar toasting of President Michael D Higgins.Mr McGuinness said on Ireland's RTE Radio 1 today that the Queen had shown “impressive leadership” in the area of conflict resolution.“I think that was the proper thing to do,” said Mr McGuinness. “I went to Windsor castle last night as an unapologetic Irish republican and I’m still an unapologetic Irish republican this morning.”