McGuinness praises Queen Elizabeth's support of NI peace

Monday 23 June 2014 23.19
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Martin McGuinness and Queen Elizabeth met in Hillsborough Castle
Martin McGuinness and Queen Elizabeth met in Hillsborough Castle
Queen Elizabeth and her husband Prince Philip arrived in Northern Ireland this afternoon
Queen Elizabeth and her husband Prince Philip arrived in Northern Ireland this afternoon

Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has praised Britain’s Queen Elizabeth as a passionate supporter of the peace process.

He was speaking after they held their first ever one-to-one meeting.

Mr McGuinness described his ten minute private audience with the Queen at Hillsborough Castle in Co Down as "very nice" and "useful".

It was the Queen's third encounter with Mr McGuinness but their first on an individual to individual basis.

The meeting came at the start of a three day visit by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.

Mr McGuinness will accompany the Royal couple on a tour of the old Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast tomorrow - a prison the politician was detained in himself during the Troubles.

"It was a very nice and useful meeting with Queen Elizabeth," Mr McGuinness said as he emerged from Hillsborough Castle.

"Remember I am an Irish republican, I was an Irish republican when I went in there and I am still a very proud Irish republican, but I also have a very important ministerial position.

“My job is to represent everybody, my job is to provide real and positive leadership - that's what I am trying to do.

"And I think in these engagements with Queen Elizabeth, and this is the third, I always see these as an opportunity to reach out, to stretch out the hand of friendship to the unionist community here in the North.

"And I think from the contributions made by Queen Elizabeth it's quite clear indeed - her visit to Dublin, meeting me in Belfast two years ago, the visit to Windsor palace and again today, that she is someone who absolutely and passionately supports the peace process and supports big acts of reconciliation."

Before meeting Mr McGuinness, the Queen also had an audience with First Minister Peter Robinson.

The DUP leader, who earlier commended the fact that an improved security situation had allowed the Queen's visit to be well publicised in advance, noted the significance of her encounter with Mr McGuinness.

"I think the fact the deputy first minister is in sitting with an audience with the Queen at this moment perhaps demonstrates just how far we have come," he said.

The Queen and her husband landed earlier this evening at George Best Belfast City Airport where they were met by Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers and former Olympic champion and now Lord Lieutenant of Belfast Dame Mary Peters.

While past visits have seen the Queen's itinerary closely guarded due to security fears, this week's engagements in the region have been publicised in advance.

From the airport the couple were driven to Hillsborough Castle, their official residence in the region.

On arrival crowds of well-wishers in the Co Down town cheered and waved Union flags.

The Queen wore a Kingfisher blue coat and matching hat with a Shamrock brooch.

As the Queen conducted private audiences with Mr Robinson, Mr McGuinness, Mr Day and Ms Villiers, the Duke met participants in his well-known awards scheme.

He talked with around 75 recipients of the Duke of Edinburgh Gold Awards.

A packed day of engagements tomorrow includes a visit to the set of hit US fantasy drama Game Of Thrones in east Belfast.

The Queen and Duke will tour the Painthall studios in the city's regenerated docklands where much of the popular HBO series is filmed.

The Royal couple will also pop into the bustling St George's Market in Belfast city centre, be guests at a reception and lunch at Belfast City Hall and attend a garden party at Hillsborough Castle.

The castle is also playing host to experts and crew from the Antiques Roadshow this week and the Queen and Duke will stop by to visit them during their stay.

During her visit, the Queen will also attend a Royal British Legion reception in Coleraine in Co Derry where she will launch a programme of activities commemorating the First World War.

The Queen and Duke last visited Northern Ireland in 2012 as part of her Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

That occasion proved highly symbolic in terms of the peace process as it marked the first occasion the she met Mr McGuinness.

Keywords: northern ireland