News24

Queen shakes hands with ex-IRA commander

2012-06-27 13:08

Belfast - Queen Elizabeth II shook hands with former IRA commander Martin McGuinness in Belfast on Wednesday in a landmark moment in Northern Ireland's peace process, Buckingham Palace said.

The handshake between the queen and McGuinness, who is now deputy first minister of Northern Ireland, took place away from the media spotlight behind closed doors in a Belfast theatre during the monarch's visit to the province.

The historic encounter with the former senior member of the Irish Republican Army would have been unthinkable a decade ago.

But the success of the peace process and the queen's visit to the Republic of Ireland last year, when her conciliatory words and gestures won over many critics of the monarchy, paved the way for their meeting.

The queen is the head of Britain's armed forces, seen in the past by Republicans as an occupying force in Northern Ireland.

McGuinness was a senior member of the IRA when it killed the queen's cousin Louis Mountbatten in a bombing in 1979.

In a quiet space in the theatre, the two met and were joined by the queen's husband Prince Philip, Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson, Irish President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina.

The meeting took place on the second day of the queen's visit to Northern Ireland.