Mcguinness hand­shake a wa­ter­shed

Bray People - - COMMENT -

IT WAS an ex­tra­or­di­nary mo­ment in the his­tory of An­glo-Ir­ish re­la­tions when Sinn Féin hard man Martin McGuinness reached out last week and shook the hand of the Queen of Eng­land. Dur­ing a State visit that was re­plete with sym­bol­ism, this com­mon hu­man ges­ture was a pow­er­ful sig­nal that things re­ally have changed be­tween Ire­land and the ‘old en­emy'.

The mo­ment is cap­tured won­der­fully in a pho­to­graph that shows the Queen smil­ing broadly as she makes firm eye con­tact with McGuinness wear­ing a tie that's a deeper shade of the four green fields. Be­side them, McGuinness's po­lit­i­cal col­league on the North­ern As­sem­bly Peter Robin­son looks on, his ex­pres­sion hint­ing at a range of feel­ings that must have run from shock to awe. Was this re­ally hap­pen­ing? Was it re­ally real?

Not very long ago Martin McGuinness would sooner have bit­ten off his own hand than of­fer it to the monarch who, from an Ir­ish Repub­li­can per­spec­tive, rep­re­sents cen­turies of Bri­tish in­jus­tice and op­pres­sion. The Queen too, must have had her own thoughts as she shook the hand of a man who would have con­sid­ered her a ' le­git­i­mate tar­get'. Her cousin Lord Mount­bat­ten blown to King­dom come in his boat in Sligo, the House­hold Cav­alry blown to shreds in Hyde Park and the count­less atroc­i­ties of ' the trou­bles' might have come to mind.

McGuinness’s sin­cer­ity and his mo­tives might be ques­tioned but when things move from a bal­lot box in one hand and an Ar­malite in the other to Martin McGuinness del­i­cately hold­ing the Queen's dainty fin­gers there's no dis­put­ing that times have in­deed changed. And change is what last week's State visit to Bri­tain was all about; change to­wards a bet­ter re­la­tion­ship be­tween neigh­bours whose shared his­tory has been tragic, bru­tal and self-maim­ing.

The road to the Queen's house in Wind­sor Cas­tle has been a long and dif­fi­cult one. Last week's State visit couldn't have hap­pened with­out the work of Al­bert Reynolds, Dick Spring, Ber­tie Ah­ern, Pres­i­dents Robin­son and McAleese, John Hume, David Trim­ble and many oth­ers who have seen that our his­tory doesn't have to con­demn us to a fu­ture as en­e­mies of our near­est neigh­bour.

We were for­tu­nate too, on this oc­ca­sion, to have as an am­bas­sador Pres­i­dent Hig­gins whose eclec­tic range of in­ter­ests from the Arts to pol­i­tics and phi­los­o­phy to horses, al­lowed him find com­mon ground in ev­ery set­ting. And it was hugely im­por­tant also that, at the Céil­iúradh shindig in the Royal Al­bert Hall, he could tell the Di­as­pora that it's Ok to be Ir­ish and have a shared cul­tural iden­tity with Bri­tain.

Most of all, what this week of pageantry and sym­bol­ism has achieved is to cre­ate dis­tance be­tween the shared fu­ture of Ire­land and Bri­tain and the dark, vi­o­lent days of the trou­bles. When you hear the Queen of Eng­land talk­ing of ‘co-op­er­at­ing to our mu­tual ben­e­fit, at ease in each other's com­pany’, it moves any dan­ger of a re­turn to the bomb and the bul­let to a more re­mote place. Now that’s some­thing worth cel­e­brat­ing.

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