Northern Ireland

Sinn Fein to decide on meeting between Queen and Martin McGuinness

Queen Elizabeth
Image caption There has been months of speculation that the Queen will meet Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness

Sinn Fein will make a decision on Friday about whether Stormont Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness will meet the Queen during her visit to Northern Ireland next week.

Mr McGuinness and First Minister Peter Robinson have been invited to attend a Co-operation Ireland reception along with the Queen and Irish President Michael D Higgins.

The invitation is being discussed at a special Sinn Fein leadership meeting in Dublin.

A decision is expected on Friday afternoon.

In the past, Sinn Fein leaders have boycotted Royal visits to Ireland.

Sinn Fein's Conor Murphy told the BBC: "We always were prepared to consider a genuine proposition and we have one on the table now."

The Newry and Armagh MP said there were significant challenges for Irish republicans with the Queen's status as head of the armed forces.

However, he said the meeting was about recognising the contribution the Queen made during her visit to Ireland last year when she visited Dublin's Garden of Remembrance.

The Queen, who is to visit Northern Ireland on Tuesday and Wednesday, is joint patron of Co-operation Ireland with the Irish President.

Image caption Martin McGuinness has been invited to a reception along with the Queen next week

The reception will coincide with the Queen's visit to Northern Ireland, but is not part of her scheduled programme of Jubilee celebrations.

The cross-border event is to focus on a celebration of local arts.

Former Sinn Fein publicity director Danny Morrison said he was in favour of a public handshake taking place between the Queen and Mr McGuinness.

"It's a huge advance in terms of symbolism," he said.

"Myself and others organised a 'Queen of Death' march in 1977, as we viewed the Queen coming over here as a triumphalist endorsement of the state forces in their war against the republican community.

"We had a peaceful march which was attacked with plastic and rubber bullets - we were enraged back then, and there's hurt on all sides."

Royal Correspondent Peter Hunt said a meeting between a Sinn Fein leader and the Queen had become inevitable since her visit to Ireland last year.

"It won't quite be that the Queen will be on roller blades rushing through, but I don't think it will be a long meeting," he said.

"I think it will be reasonably short and I also suspect that the actual handshake may well be in private."

UDA leader Jackie McDonald said the Queen had "broken the mould" by her visit to the Republic of Ireland last year.

He said he would welcome any meeting between the Queen and Mr McGuinness as a "step forward".

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