Did Queen’s small talk in­clude a dig at ex-IRA leader?

The Dominion Post - - World - BRI­TAIN

Only the Queen will ever be able to tell us whether she was get­ting in a sly dig at a for­mer IRA com­man­der, or just sur­prised at her own longevity.

For the mo­ment, how­ever, we will just have to make do with her reply when Martin McGuin­ness asked her how she was.

‘‘I’m still alive,’’ the Queen said, smil­ing. Given the re­cent, and some­what tir­ing, run of 90th birth­day celebrations, she might just have been ex­press­ing her as­ton­ish­ment that she is still stand­ing.

Af­ter all, as the Queen pointed out to McGuin­ness, North­ern Ire­land’s deputy first min­is­ter, she has had two birth­days.

But it can­not be en­tirely ruled out that the Queen was ob­serv­ing how she is still alive and kick­ing, nearly 40 years af­ter the IRA de­clared her a le­git­i­mate tar­get.

The pair met yes­ter­day at Hills­bor­ough Cas­tle as the Queen be­gan a two-day visit to North­ern Ire­land with the Duke of Ed­in­burgh.

In footage, McGuin­ness can be over­heard greet­ing the monarch with the words ‘‘Are you well?’’, while the Queen replied with a smile: ‘‘Thank you very much – I’m still alive.’’

The meet­ing was in con­trast to the first time they shook hands, at a cul­tural event at Belfast’s Lyric theatre in 2012. That first greet­ing was away from the me­dia spot­light, be­hind closed doors – but later at the same event, the historic handshake was re­peated in pub­lic, with McGuin­ness of­fer­ing the Queen part­ing words in Irish, which meant ‘‘Goodbye and God’s speed’’.

The warmth of the meet­ing was in even sharper con­trast to the IRA’s pre­vi­ous deal­ings with the Queen.

In 1981, two years af­ter the murder of her cousin Lord Mount­bat­ten, the IRA tried to blow up the monarch dur­ing a visit to an oil ter­mi­nal at Sul­lom Voe in the Shet­land Is­lands. The bomb went off, but was so far away that it caused lit­tle dis­rup­tion to the visit.

At Hills­bor­ough Cas­tle, in­stead of bombs or his­tory, there was some vin­tage royal small talk. ‘‘Been quite busy, there’s quite a lot go­ing on,’’ the Queen told McGuin­ness with ex­quis­ite un­der­state­ment.

The politician could only agree: ‘‘There’s a lot of things hap­pen­ing at the mo­ment.’’ With an­other smile, the Queen said: ‘‘I’ve had two birth­days.’’

After­wards, the two sides re­fused to say whether the United King­dom’s de­par­ture from the EU was dis­cussed in their pri­vate meet­ings.

As part of her tour of the north coast, the Queen also vis­ited the fa­mous stones of the Gi­ant’s Cause­way in County Antrim.

In the nearby vil­lage of Bush­mills, the Queen un­veiled a statue to Robert Quigg, who was awarded the Vic­to­ria Cross for his brav­ery dur­ing the Bat­tle of the Somme in 1916, when he rescued seven sol­diers from no-man’s land. In 1953, he was in­tro­duced to the new Queen and the Duke of Ed­in­burgh when they vis­ited Col­eraine in County Lon­don­derry as part of the coronation tour.

PHOTO: REUTERS

The Queen and the Duke of Ed­in­burgh travel by steam train from Col­eraine to Bel­larena dur­ing their two-day visit to North­ern Ire­land.

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