The Queen publicly shook hands with the former IRA commander and current Sinn Fein politician Martin McGuinness today, in a move that has seen Anglo-Irish relations take a momentous step forward.
The historic encounter would have been unthinkable just 10 years ago, but the ongoing success of the peace process and the Queen’s conciliatory words and gestures during a visit to the Republic of Ireland last year paved the way for the meeting.
The Queen and Mr McGuinness, now Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister, initially shook hands behind closed doors in the McGrath Suite within Belfast’s Lyric theatre during an event celebrating the arts in Northern Ireland and the Republic.
But the pair shook hands again, this time publicly, as the Queen left to continue her Diamond Jubilee tour of Northern Ireland. As they shook hands for a second time, Mr McGuinness wished the Queen well in Irish and told her that the phrase meant: "Goodbye and God's speed."
It is understood that during the first meeting, which lasted around five minutes, Mr McGuinness welcomed the Queen in Irish. He is said to have commented briefly on the Queen's visit to Dublin last year and in particular her comments regarding all the victims of the conflict.
They pair were joined by the Duke of Edinburgh, Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson, Irish President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina.
Asked by reporters as he was leaving how his meeting with the Queen had gone, Mr McGuinness said it had been "very nice".
A Sinn Fein spokesman said: "He emphasised the need to acknowledge the pain of all victims of the conflict and their families."
The spokesman added that Mr McGuinness told the Queen that their meeting was a "powerful signal that peace-building requires leadership".
Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson met Mr McGuinness this morning and added that he was relaxed.
"It had obviously gone very well," he said.
"This will move Northern Ireland on to a whole new plane. After all the trauma of Northern Ireland, everyone is looking forward.
"It is about a shared future, not a shared-out future."
He said it was absolutely appropriate that when the Queen visits parts of the UK, she meets local politicians, democratically elected, pursuing their democratic political goals by peaceful means.
Mr Paterson added that it built on the success of the Queen's visit to the Republic of Ireland last year.
"None of this could have happened a few years ago so it is all looking to the future."
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