Northern Ireland

Martin McGuinness says Queen handshake 'highly symbolic'

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Media captionThe Queen shook hands with former IRA commander Martin McGuinness.

Martin McGuinness has described his meeting with the Queen as highly significant and symbolic.

The deputy first minister said it could help define "a new relationship between Britain and Ireland and between the Irish people themselves".

He was speaking at a Sinn Fein event in the Palace of Westminster.

The MP said Wednesday's meeting at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast "came about as a result of decades of work constructing the Irish peace process".


"I was, in a very pointed, deliberate and symbolic way, offering the hand of friendship to unionists through the person of Queen Elizabeth for which many unionists have a deep affinity," he said.

"It is an offer I hope many will accept in the same spirit it was offered."

Mr McGuinness said the problems between Britain and Ireland had not been resolved but "we now operate in a new context of compromise, agreement and peace".

During the speech to fellow MPs and party supporters, he also referred to the issue of dealing with the past.

"I genuinely regret every single life that was lost during the conflict, and today I want every family to know that your pain is not being ignored," he said.

Mr McGuinness also said the "task of building national reconciliation is as much a part of the peace process as anything that has gone before".

The deputy first minister had criticism for the government and repeated his call that there should an inquiry into the 1971 killings in Ballymurphy and into the 1989 murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane.

He said the British government needs to "stop obstructing these matters".

He also criticised Prime Minister David Cameron for a "lack of engagement", and said Secretary of State Owen Paterson had made a series of "very wrong and unhelpful decisions" during his time at the Northern Ireland Office.

This was rejected by a Conservative Party spokesman, who said Mr Cameron "has always taken a close interest in Northern Ireland affairs".

"The fact is that most prime ministerial involvement over the past 15 years has been driven by crises in the peace process," he said.

"Mercifully thanks to the efforts of a large number of people - including Sinn Fein - Northern Ireland enjoys political stability and we are able to move beyond the politics of the peace process."

In a wide-ranging speech, Mr McGuinness also called on the Orange Order to talk to his party and nationalist residents.

The Sinn Fein MP said they needed to "seriously debate how they are going to step forward and make their contribution to a lasting peace in the coming weeks".

Mr McGuinness's appearance in Westminster may be his last as the MP for Mid Ulster, as he signalled his intention earlier this month to stand down and concentrate his political activities at Stormont.

Follow Stephen Walker on Twitter @StepWalkTV

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