What's behind Sinn Fein's royal angst?

Martin McGuinness Martin McGuinness said meeting the Queen would be a big ask for an Irish republican

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I suppose I should have smelled a royal rat on Friday night.

A Sinn Fein source complained about a news agency report, carried on the BBC website, which linked plans for a big Jubilee party in the grounds of Stormont to the Queen meeting Martin McGuinness.

Ten thousand tickets are being made available for the event, welcomed by First Minister Peter Robinson as "an historic and unparalleled opportunity for the people to express their devotion and appreciation to Her Majesty for six decades of service".

So not exactly Sinn Fein's cup of tea, and my source was at pains to stress that arranging Stormont as a venue hadn't been an executive decision.

News that the deputy first minister would be at the event, the source told me, came as news to Martin McGuinness himself.

Then on Sunday Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin followed through on the BBC's "Sunday Politics".

The minister told my colleague Tara Mills that the Jubilee party had been concocted by the NIO and the DUP without consulting Sinn Fein.

Such a move, she maintained, made it more difficult for Sinn Fein to contemplate a meeting with the Queen when she visits Stormont at the end of the month.

Ordinarily, if one party accuses another of deliberately not consulting them about a sensitive initiative, the other side hits back.

But in this case both the DUP and the NIO stayed silent - apparently unwilling to engage in a slanging match which might diminish the chances of an historic encounter between the deputy first minister and the Queen.

Informed sources whispered that it would be "highly unusual" for such a delicate matter not to be run across Stormont's second biggest party - but no-one could be induced to take this argument on to the airwaves.


Sinn Fein has been dropping hints for months that Martin McGuinness might be preparing himself to make what is, for an Irish republican, a significant gesture.

Sinn Fein boycotted the Queen's historic visit to the Irish Republic, earning themselves some negative press coverage.

Then, during his bid for the Irish presidency, Martin McGuinness felt it necessary to make it clear that, if victorious, he would meet and greet other heads of state, including the Queen.

Immediately after Michael D Higgins was declared president at Dublin Castle, I asked Mr McGuinness if he would meet the Queen in his capacity as deputy first minister.

He told me he would ponder this - the first of a series of increasingly tantalising indications that Sinn Fein were preparing the ground for such a move.

With the party's annual conference or ard fheis featuring messages about the need to engage with unionists and respect their symbols and traditions it felt like all the choreography was being put in place.

Then came Friday's Jubilee party announcement and the culture minister's complaint.

So what's going on? Potentially Sinn Fein were genuinely taken by surprise with the scale of what's planned for Stormont.


There's no doubt the party's relations with the NIO aren't great.

Gerry Adams has personally criticised Owen Paterson and there are strong rumours of tensions between Caral Ni Chuilin and the NIO behind the scenes of the recent Olympic Torch relay.

Alternatively the cynic in me wonders whether Sinn Fein simply want to inject uncertainty into the proceedings in order to create more suspense prior to announcing a positive decision.

The party have long been masters of clever news management.

However other informed sources say there's a real debate within republican ranks about the wisdom of meeting a monarch.

According to this version the political process is more "paper thin" than commentators sometimes believe.

Although on Monday Mr McGuinness repeated Ms Ni Chuilin's criticism of the NIO, he didn't immediately volunteer those comments.

Instead, Sinn Fein sought to shift the media focus from its royal dilemma by concentrating on its MPs' decision to end Stormont Westminster double jobbing.

Sinn Fein insist there still isn't a "doable proposition" and that its ard comhairle or ruling executive will make the final decision.

So we are still left guessing.

However ponder this, Martin McGuinness said meeting the Queen is a "huge ask".

But in recent years he's been proud to take big steps.

Would he be happy if the ard comhairle box him in to what might be seen as a limited, constrained response as opposed to the more expansive gesture he has previously hinted at?

Mark Devenport, Political editor, Northern Ireland Article written by Mark Devenport Mark Devenport Political editor, Northern Ireland

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  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    I hope OUR Queen has Great Party, in this part of the UK

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Wonder if Sinn Fein are kicking themselves that their leadership did not meet the Queen on her visit to Ireland. In that case they could have met her in her role as a visiting head of state, and surrounded by the images of Republicanism or Nationalism in the Garden of Remembrance or Croke Park. Now they face the prospect of Martin meeting the Queen at Stormont as part of Her government here!

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Nice to see you back and you are consolatory as usual. You are whats wrong with this country. We all need to live and work together, respecting everyone's culture and beliefs, be them religious or political.

    Until we get rid of tribal politics what hope do we have.

    Once again I call for politicans who will represent us the populous to turn around our economy

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Why not gain concessions? Geography lesson needed. This is Ireland. Some of it is in the UK, but it's Ireland. We republicans are going nowhere. We have gained more in 15 years than unionism has in 200. The more concessions we get the less unionism has to cling to. It's time to get over yourselves the Queen's own forces left behind many victims. She should apologise before she is allowed to visit!

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    @ emperor1ee - Typically stupid offering from a cosy southern republican which displays the usual lack of even a basic understanding about affairs 'up the road'. and if the south rejoins the UK, then you are no longer a republican surely.

    As for the Martin/Queen issue, it's niaive to think that SF aren't angling for concessions regarding some other matter. That's how politics here works.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Marty, Gerry and the rest of the shinner project (just ask Carol Cullen) hate everything British. Even the easterly weather is the fault of the British, as the weather must travel over the United kingdom before it gets to the republic of Ireland.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.


    Let's leave denying history or culture to Pol Pot and Mao Tse Tung.

    Best endeavours of plantation, partition and pogroms failed to secure a Protestant State for a Protestant People. Get over it.

    Sinn Fein MPs get no salary, yet work hard for their constituents on the Shankill and Falls.

    Have a great day out, and make Her Majesty proud, not embarrassed, of her loyal subject.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.


    I don't think even the Queen herself would try to claim that Northern Ireland belonged to her and that people who aren't royalists should be thrown out.. People who live in Northern Ireland are already in Ireland, the clue is in the name. Also, you are allowed to call yourself a unionist without necessarily having to be a royalist.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    I think it`s maybe time SF got over themselves. Who really cares if McGuinness shakes the Queens hand. The Queen wont, the British people in this part of the UK wont, and indeed most straight thinking people on this island wont.
    The queen took the big step last year through her actions in Dublin when SF read it totally wrong and ended up presenting a damage limitation exercise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Martin McGuinness seemed to take issue with those who would not shake hands with him (memorably Ken Maginnis on the Newsnight programme) as if they were bitter and uncharitable. I hope the Queen extends the hand of friendship just to see McGuinness squirm. Please spare me the opinion that he can't because of 'British imperialism in Ireland'. He was willing to do it if elected President. No excuses

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    I check the NI news on BBC pretty regularly and this is genuinely the only time I can remember seeing any comments on an article...and they are depressingly familiar for the most part.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    No-one ever asks if the Queen would like to meet Martin McGuinness!

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    "informed sources say there's a real debate within republican ranks about the wisdom of meeting a monarch. "

    Not true - I suspect that they would have no problem meeting king Juan Carlos of Spain, or Queen Beatrice of the Netherlands.

    The reason for the fuss probably has more to do with SF looking over their shoulders at the small numbers of very vocal dissidents

  • Comment number 16.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    @Wilma, Portrushguy... There are two compelling sides to this conflict, but it is over, done and the reconciliation is going to happen regardless of whether you come along or not. The Queen represents generations of oppression to the Catholic community this is a "big ask", have some grace, we've given you 400 years of it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    How bigoted you are - Ireland doesn't belong to the queen but was colonised by Great Britain - read your history books. With regards to your idiot comment "they don't seem to hava a problem holding the QUEEN in their pockets.." etc are you referring solely to Sinn Fein or all catholics in general? What other currency are they supposed to use, monopoly money?

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    If the QUEEN is such a problem for Sin Fein then they should clear off from the United Kingdom, move to their precious Ireland. Mind you they don't seem to have a problem holding the QUEEN in their pockets when it comes to cash, benefits, pay cheques!! REMINDER to SIN Fein this is the Queen's country if you don't like it then BOG OFF.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Maybe the Deputy First Minister could give the Queen a tour of the Bogside and they could discuss withdrawing the honours given to General Jackson and Colonel Wilford for their activities on Bloody Sunday?

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Is anyone really surprised by this story?

    The BIG question must be asked of Her Majesty, Does she really want to shake hands with McGuinness?
    Personally I think NOT..I am 60plus and for me the thought of shaking the hand of anyone from Sinn Fein makes me physically SICK....I remember the bombs in Coleraine. I remember the blood on the road being washed away by the shower of rain that followed..

  • Comment number 10.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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