Historic handshake between British queen and Irish republican (+video)
The meeting between Queen Elizabeth and longtime republican and Northern Irish Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness is a 'hugely significant step,' say commentators.
It was a moment pregnant with symbolism, but one that remained closed to the public and was initially intended to not even be photographed: a senior Irish republican shaking the hand of the British Queen.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Queen Elizabeth's visit to Ireland
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The deputy first minister of Northern Ireland shaking the hand of the monarch who remains head of state of Northern Ireland would normally be a fairly mundane affair. But the office is held by Martin McGuinness – not just a Sinn Féin politician, but also a leader of the Irish Republican Army, which fought a three-decade bloody civil conflict against British forces.
Given who he is, the handshake is being hailed as the final major act of the Irish peace process.
Sinn Féin has said Mr. McGuinness told the queen that the meeting was a "powerful signal that peace-building requires leadership."
Although a photograph has been released to the press, the handshake between McGuinness and the British queen occurred behind closed doors. A second meeting was held a short time later, and the two shook hands again in front of television cameras for later broadcast.
Initial plans not to release a photograph of the handshake were widely criticized in Ireland.
At this second meeting, McGuinness spoke to the queen in Irish Gaelic, saying "slán agus beannacht," and explained it meant "goodbye and Godspeed."
Speaking to reporters a day in advance of the meeting, McGuinness said he was "still a republican."
McGuinness does not deny having been a member of the IRA, but claims he left the organization in 1974 in order to concentrate on politics as a member of Irish republican political party Sinn Féin. Few believe him. Across Ireland it is assumed McGuinness was a member of the now defunct IRA army council, the secret top brass of Irish republicanism, until it was finally wound up some time after 2005.