Five things about Martin McGuinness and the Queen of England

Tell you what. On this sun-filled St Patrick’s Day, let’s look at the Queen of England. Or to be more exact, the suggested meeting between herself and Martin McGuinness. Five things.

1.    There’s something faintly hilarious about the northern leader of a party which, for years, people would have chopped off their hand rather than shake hands with; now hes being asked, courted, demanded – you choose your word – to shake hands. Remember Gay Byrne’s famous refusal to shake the hand of Gerry Adams on his Late Late Show? And now there are people who’ll be miffed if Martin McGuinness doesn’t shake hands with the head of the House of Windsor. Sometimes it’s hard to keep up with the twists of diplomacy and etiquette.

2.    Do you shake hands only with people whose political views match yours? I’m putting the finishing touches to a book about three of the major centenaries we now face. In the course of preparing it, I interviewed politicians of every stripe – from flinty republicans to dyed-in-the-wool unionists. In every case I shook hands with them, and they with me. I can’t speak for them but I know I figured it was a civilized thing to do. It didn’t mean I shared their philosophies or indeed that they shared mine. Ditto Queen and Deputy First Minister.

3.    There are some who’ll seek to make political hay out of any McG-QE2 meeting. Some will say it shows McGuinness has sold out – that he’s accepted the Queen as his lawful sovereign, and all those years of conflict were all a bit like your man in the ‘Dallas’ soap – all just a bad dream that never really happened. Others will say that it  shows nationalists/Catholics in the north – esp the under 45s, if you’re to believe at least one priest – don’t give a monkey’s about a united Ireland. Both of them clearly don’t know Martin McGuinness.

4.    Why is McGuinness prepared to do it? Well, only he knows for sure. But my guess is that, like Alex Salmond, he wants to reassure those in the community who might be filled with fears about the future that, as far as acting in a civilized and respectful manner  towards the woman they – well, not so much they have chosen, since choosing a monarch has nothing to do with the people – the woman who has been landed on them as their head of state.

5.    This is another stage in a long journey that Sinn Fein have taken towards reconciliation with their fellow-Irishmen who are unionists. Their attitude to Irish soldiers who died in British uniform in WW1, their taking of seats at Stormont and the Dail, their sharing of power and its responsibilities – they are determined to remove any unnecessary barrier between them and the unionist community. On Thursday last I was in Berry Street Presbyterian Church. The minister introduced the discussion of the signing of the Covenant – attended by at least as many nationalists/republicans as unionists – and then handed over, in his words, to his ‘good friend Danny Morrison’.

All changed, changed utterly. You can interpret that as a total sell-out of the great mass of republicans of everything they fought for over several decades – killed and were killed, went to prison for years, all the other wounds of conflict – all sold out, the Queen of England acknowledged as their sovereign. Or you can see it as republicans treating in a civilized way someone unionists, for reasons best known to themselves revere. My money is on the second of these two. A final footnote: if republicans are respectful of unionist figure-heads such as the Queen of England, that poses an interesting question. How will unionists treat those things which republicans hold dear and honour? 

3 Responses to Five things about Martin McGuinness and the Queen of England

  1. Anonymous March 17, 2012 at 11:17 am #

    That disdainful phrase “the queen of England” shows you personally have still a bit to go in giving the hand of friendship in a full and giving way as opposed to your nippy and cynical style.
    As for m mg potentially shaking the queens hand,it’s the clever move mild unionists like myself see it as sinn fein making the effort,they don’t appear so threatening…of course it’s all strategic and tactical,if you really want a UI let’s be softly softly,let’s not scare the horses.

    The one small snag is no one north or south in anywhere enough numbers in remotely interested in a UI actually happening…best kept to a romantic aspiration (if that)

  2. Jude Collins March 17, 2012 at 12:49 pm #

    Anon 04:17 AM – thanks for your thoughts. I’m afraid I see absolutely nothing disdainful about calling her ‘the queen of England’. I think you’re being just a bit touchy there. I have always extended the hand of friendship to anyone, unionist, nationalist, republican, anarchist, that’s prepared to take it. But I reserve the right to comment on things as I see fit, not them. Or you. I also think it’s a bit rich to condemn republicans when they engage in violence and condemn republicans when they do the opposite. De Valera, in his less democratic moments, used to say that when he wanted to know what the people of Ireland were thinking, he’d go off and look into his own heart. You appear to be well ahead of him with your last sentence.

  3. Anonymous March 17, 2012 at 11:06 pm #

    If/when this famous handshake happens,do’s anyone know if Her Majesty will wear the ubiquitous gloves for the occasion