Columnist’s View of Dining With Queen

Posted By: April 07, 2014

Tom Kelly. Irish News ( Belfast). Monday, April 7, 2014
“MRS Windsor” as Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams once derogatorily remarked, is a woman who
never let’s us know what she is thinking.

She has reigned for more than 60 years and yet we hardly know her opinion about

So we will never know what pillow talk goes on between her and Prince Philip over
the impending visit by her deputy first minister Martin McGuinness to Windsor

They have met before under the aegis of the peace-building charity Co-operation
Ireland and they both smiled and shook hands.

Whatever one thinks about the politics of Sinn Fein their decision to attend the
royal state events in honour of the Irish president is the right one.

And let’s be honest – it’s also a brave and courageous decision as many within the
republican fraternity will be writhing with discomfort watching their former
‘military commander’ sitting down to parley and dine with the head of the British
armed forces in the very castle where the queen’s ancestor Henry II consolidated his
presence in Ireland with Rory O’Connor in the Treaty of Windsor in 1175.

A treaty that the Christian Brothers taught us that spawned over 800 years of
British rule in Ireland resulting in dissension, rebellion, oppression,
sectarianism, plantation, exile, betrayal, insurrection and counter-insurrection.

When Martin McGuinness took his oath as an IRA volunteer in the early 1970’s he
probably never envisaged a day when he would star in a royal “come dine with me”
where Gin and Dubonnet -the queen’s favourite tipple, replace Molotov cocktails.
Back then any detention at her majesty’s command would have been an involuntary one.

Today things are different. He is not as some are saying on-line “taking the soup”

although soup is likely to be among the multiple courses!

The deputy first minister now serves and co-oversees a devolved administration whose
writ comes directly from a sovereign parliament in Westminster.

The Sinn Fein statement which confirmed that he would attend the events later this
week demonstrated two things; firstly that the party is confident and maturing over
issues about identity and secondly, their electoral game play is now less about the
north and much about the republic of Ireland.

When the queen made her historic trip to the republic of Ireland three years ago
Sinn Fein seriously misjudged Irish public opinion when they refused to meet her but
they are a party that does not like to get things wrong twice.

Later when the queen visited Belfast the deputy first minister was on hand to greet
her along with the first minister.

Sinn Fein saw that there was little fallout from the handshake other than from the
lunatic fringes of intransigent republicanism.

The debacle over the flying of the Union flag at Belfast City Hall hurt many
rank-and-file unionists and while Alliance got most of the blame for letting it
happen, Sinn Fein who likes to engage in gesture politics has been looking for
opportunities ever since to assuage ordinary Unionists that they recognise their

So the first ever-official state visit by an Irish president to Britain is just the
type of opportunity they have been looking for. The current tetchiness of the
strained relationship between Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness also gave Sinn
Fein an opportunity to present their leadership as statesman like.

Sinn Fein is also likely to have electorally calculated that while they will remain
the largest nationalist player in The North, their support levels may have actually

So the real game changer for Sinn Fein is in the Republic of Ireland where the party
is eradicating the working-class base of the Irish Labour Party. Current polls
suggest that the next Irish election may see a proper left-right re-alignment and
the goal of Sinn Fein is to at least make them seem like a suitable partner in a
coalition government.

Not that any party in the South is likely to choose Sinn Fein as a credible partner
this side of 2020 and until there is a generational change within their leadership.

The decision to send Martin McGuinness to Windsor is all part of Sinn Fein’s
long-term ambition to govern in both parts of Ireland by altering public perceptions
of it. Dissident Republicans, hard-line loyalists and some victims groups will for
different reasons be angry at the royal invitation but this is the type of
generosity that political leadership is all about and Martin McGuinness deserves
praise not pilloried for quite literally stepping up to the plate.