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Daily Telegraph
23 June 2012

A second chance for churlish leader

In May last year, the Queen stood in the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin and bowed her head in acknowledgement of those who had died fighting against Britich rule. The Irish are a volatile people, and the magnanimity of this gesture caught their imagination.

She made a brilliant speech the following evening, which began with a few words in Irish, acknowleged the negatives of the shared history of the two islands as well as the potitives, and spoke of the importance of "being able to bow to the past, but not be bound by it".

By the end of the four-day visit, a poll indicated that she had won the hearts of 95 per cent of the Irish.

Sinn Fein, which had snubbed the visit, resembled small boys with their noses pressed to the window pane of the party from which they had excluded themselves. Knowing they had been seen as churlish, they needed a second chance.

And so began the whispers that, as a gesture to Unionists, the Deputy Fist Minister, Martin McGuinness, might be prepared to meet the Queen when she came to Northern Ireland on her Jubilee visit. It would be a big "ask", we were told, considering all that the republicans had suffered, but in the interests of the peace process and all manner of other good things, he might be prepared to take such a might step.

Considering that McGuinness was on the IRA army council when it ordered the murder of the Duke of Edinburgh's uncle, Lord Mountbatten, it was a big ask for Her Majesty as well. McGuinness had been at the top also when there was an elaborate plot to kill the Prince of Wales, which fell apart when the job was given to Sean O'Callaghan, who was a spy for the Irish police.

Then there were the thousands of soldiers, police and civilians murdered and maimed on McGuinness's watch.

Sinn Fein are adept at teasing governments and extracting the maximum of concessions, so it has taken until now for them to commit themselves to what was inevitable. The Queen does her duty unflinchingly, so she will show nothing of her private feelings when she shakes the hand of Martin McGuinness. Despite his bloody past, as a politician he is a pro, so we can expect that he will emulate her.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

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