Queen to begin two-day Northern Ireland visit

Live BBC coverage of the Queen's visit to Northern Ireland

Thousands of people are lining the streets ahead of the arrival of the Queen in Northern Ireland as part of her Diamond Jubilee tour.

The two-day visit to County Fermanagh and Belfast will include a meeting with former IRA leader and Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

Her arrival has been delayed by up to an hour due to bad weather, and she will fly into Belfast, before being taken by helicopter to Enniskillen.

Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson said the Queen's visit to Stormont would have been "unthinkable" even a few years ago.

"This is a chance to move Northern Ireland a whole step forward," he said.

Visits by the Queen to Northern Ireland are normally kept secret until arrival.

This one has been officially announced in advance - a sign of the improved security situation - however, some protests are expected.

The Queen will begin her tour of Belfast and County Fermanagh by attending a thanksgiving church service in Enniskillen.

Senior Protestant and Catholic clergy are expected to attend.

Enniskillen was the scene of one of the worst atrocities of the Troubles when an IRA bomb killed 11 people on Remembrance Sunday in 1987.

Twenty-five years on, the Queen will meet Sinn Fein's Mr McGuinness on day two of her visit, at an arts event in Belfast.

'Risk for peace'

Ireland's head of state President Michael D Higgins and Stormont First Minister Peter Robinson will also be there.

In his first interview since the meeting with the Queen was announced, Mr McGuinness described it as "taking a risk for peace".

In the BBC interview, he acknowledged that British soldiers - and the Royal Family - had suffered as a result of the Troubles.

He said: "It's another bit of history. It's about recognising, in terms of my own community where I come from, that there have been many people who have been badly hurt as a result of state violence.

Martin McGuinness: "I'm extending the hand of peace and reconciliation"

"But it's also recognising that others have lost too - the British soldiers who were sent here by politicians have also lost their lives, members of the RUC, the UDR, the Queen herself lost someone who was a member of her family (Lord Mountbatten).

"So I think it's important that we all recognise that we're in a different place."

These were significant words from Mr McGuinness, demonstrating how Sinn Fein's language has become increasingly more moderate over recent years.

Reconciliation

However, he insisted that agreeing to meet the British Queen did not not stop him being a committed Irish republican.

He said: "I am an Irish republican, I want to see a process of national reconciliation on this island but also a reconciliation between this island and Britain.

"It's also an opportunity to give unionists a glimpse of what a reunited Ireland would look like."

The two-day visit will be the Queen's 20th trip to Northern Ireland.

Some protests by dissident republicans are expected, but an anti-royal demonstration in Belfast at the weekend only attracted about 300 people.

The Queen's ground-breaking four-day visit to the Irish Republic last year cemented a new era in British-Irish relations.

In spite of speculation that the handshake between Mr McGuinness and the Queen would be off-camera, Mr McGuinness said he had no objection to the encounter being photographed.

  • There will be coverage of the Queen's Jubilee visit to Northern Ireland from 10:45 BST on BBC One, which will be streamed live on the BBC NI news website. There will also be an extended Talkback on Radio Ulster from 10:45 BST until 13:30 BST.

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