The first public handshake between the Irish head of state and the President of the Sinn Féin Party.
A frequent visitor to Northern Ireland as part of her itinerary President Mary Robinson visited a women’s centre in loyalist West Belfast in 1996. A turbulent summer in the north, has affected community tolerance and the President was heckled by local protesters as she left for her next engagement in the nationalist Springfield Road area.
It was here the first public handshake between the Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams and the Irish head of state took place, although it was all but obscured by a forest of cameras. Both presidents played down the significance of the gesture with Mary Robinson saying,
I have no role in the political discussions or policy issues and I’m very aware that that allows me to meet people in their work at community level on the ground, and it is in that context that here in Springfield I met Gerry Adams among a wide range of other people.
Her message to both communities was not to lose hope in the peace process although many may feel it has run its course.
An RTÉ News report broadcast on 12 September 1996. The reporter is by David Davin-Power.