After publicly shaking hands with the Queen on her visit to Northern Ireland, Martin McGuinness calls for a renewal of efforts towards Irish unity.
After a week in which a simple handshake came to symbolise a moment of reconciliation after centuries of discord between Britain and Ireland, Martin McGuinness last night addressed guests at Sinn Féin’s summer reception in Westminster.
He said that he and Northern Ireland’s first minister, the DUP’s Peter Robinson, had been at Portrush for the Irish Open golf earlier in the day – the first time it has been held in Northern Ireland since 1953 (ironically enough, the year of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation).
“There were 25,000 people there and I think I shook every one of their hands. My hand’s sore. I’ve never had so many offers of handshakes as I’ve had today.”
McGuinness said that while Thursday’s historic meeting with the Queen was “short in length”, it can have “a much longer effect in defining a new relationship between Britain and Ireland and between Irish people themselves.”
“Britain’s involvement in Irish affairs has been marked by colonialism, plantation, division and partition and I believe it has been bad for Ireland and her people. I also believe it has been bad for Britain and her people. We have been left to deal with that legacy. It’s a legacy that has contaminated normal politics and normal relations between our islands for generations.
“I genuinely regret every single life that was lost during that conflict and today I want every family who lost a loved one to know that your pain is not being ignored and I am willing to work with others to find a way to deal with our past so that we can complete our journey to true reconciliation.”
McGuinness says he wants to have “a public conversation” about how that is achieved, but part of it will involve the British government admitting the role it played in the conflict as a “combatant”.
He called for “a new fresh approach to British/Irish relations”, saying this week’s cordiality was a glimpse of how things would be in a united Ireland. Partition, he said, was “a relic of the past”.
Arguing that Irish unity should now become the goal of the Irish government, he called on Britain to take on the role of active advocates for Irish unity.
The meeting was attended by, among others, Northern Ireland minister, Hugo Swire, Labour’s shadow Northern Ireland secretary Vernon Coaker and former London mayor Ken Livingstone.
• How does Northern Ireland achieve reconciliation in 2012? 3 January 2012
• The Queen in Dublin: An eyewitness account of history 18 May 2011
While Sinn Féin does not involve itself in Westminster politics, McGuinness remarked that both he and Robinson had met Barack Obama on more occasions than they have met David Cameron – a familiar complaint from Northern Ireland’s political class since 2010.
At present, indeed, he has shaken hands with the Queen more often than the Prime Minister.