The Queen's role in Northern Ireland peace process

Judith Hill reports on the Queen's role and legacy in Northern Ireland.

In an historic encounter in 2012, the Queen shook Martin McGuinness’s hand at an event in Belfast’s Lyric Theatre.

In a quiet space used by the Lyric for creative learning, the former IRA commander who rose to become Northern Ireland's deputy first minister and the monarch were joined by the Duke of Edinburgh, First Minister Peter Robinson, Irish President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina.

As the Queen left the theatre, she and Mr Guinness publicly shook hands.

UTV's report on the Queen's historic meeting with Martin McGuinness from 2012. Reporter Jane Loughrey talks with Co-Operation Ireland chief executive Peter Sheridan, singer Brian Kennedy, poet Micheal Longley, former Taoiseach John Bruton and Rev David Latimer.

Mr Guinness held the monarch's hands for a few moments, spoke to her in Irish and told her the words meant: "Goodbye and God's speed."

"Of course this was a major event because during the worst days of the Troubles the British Royals would’ve been an IRA target,” recounts the historian Dr Eamon Phoenix.

"You had the assassination of Lord Mountbatten and his entourage in Sligo in the late 70s so this was amazing.

"The Queen responded and of course, the Duke of Edinburgh seemed colder towards Martin McGuinness, aware of the loss of his uncle Lord Mounbatten," Dr Phoenix added.

The Queen had lost her cousin, Louis Mountbatten, to an IRA bomb in 1979 at a point when Mr McGuinness was the terror group's chief of staff.

The pair discussed the killing as they met behind closed doors in a room within Belfast's Lyric Theatre during an event celebrating the arts in the Republic and Northern Ireland.

Hours later, the smiling deputy first leader described the meeting as "very nice" but joked: "I'm still a Republican."

Martin McGuinness at a Co-operation Ireland reception in London. During event The Queen unveiled a portrait by artist Colin Davidson. Credit: PA

A day later, he said he recognised its "momentous and historical" significance, saying it had the potential to define "a new relationship between Britain and Ireland and between the Irish people themselves".

In a later speech in Westminster, he said the handshake "was in a very pointed, deliberate and symbolic way offering the hand of friendship to unionists through the person of Queen Elizabeth for which many unionists have a deep affinity".

"It is an offer I hope many will accept in the same spirit it was offered," he said.

In 2012, UTV reporter Gareth Wilkinson gauged opinion in Londonderry of how Martin McGuinness's handshake with the Queen was received

Professor Marie Coleman believes the handshake only came about after significant political events in previous years.

"That course had been facilitated by David Cameron’s apology over the Bloody Sunday inquiry so that’s a period of 2010/2011," Professor Coleman says.

"That was quite important chapter in the Queen’s relationship with Ireland, north and south," she adds.

The meeting was quickly hailed around the world.

Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton described it as "the most remarkable sign of change yet" in the peace process.

Even more surprising was the warmth with which Mr McGuinness would go on to openly show when speaking about the head of a British establishment he had once so reviled.

"I liked her courage in agreeing to meet with me, I liked the engagements that I've had with her. There's nothing I have seen in my engagements with her that this is someone I should dislike - I like her," he told a BBC documentary.

PA photographer Paul Faith, who captured the famous first meeting in 2012, said the significance of the shot "didn't really sink in" until he went to the newstands the next day.

"Every front page was carrying the photograph and it hit me that this was going to be a historic image," he said.

Recalling the meeting, he said: "I remember that Martin appeared very relaxed and confident and happy to stand beside the Queen."

The meeting became one of several handshakes recorded on camera over the years.

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