By Jill Lawless ,AP
LONDON — The Irish Republican Army-linked Sinn Fein party says one of its leaders, Martin McGuinness, will meet Queen Elizabeth II next week — a once-unthinkable symbol of progress toward peace in Northern Ireland.
McGuinness, a former IRA commander, has been invited to attend an event with the queen in his role as deputy first minister of Northern Ireland’s Catholic-Protestant power-sharing government.
Neither Sinn Fein nor Buckingham Palace revealed detailed plans for the meeting. Britain’s Press Association news agency said McGuiness and the queen would meet and shake hands in a private room at the beginning of the engagement. But even if it amounts to little more than a quick handshake, the meeting will have great symbolic value.
The queen and her husband, Prince Philip, will visit Northern Ireland on Tuesday and Wednesday as part of her United Kingdom-wide tour celebrating 60 years on the throne.
Sinn Fein leaders declined to meet the queen last year during her first state visit to the neighboring Republic of Ireland, arguing it was still too soon after the end of decades of conflict and bloodshed.
But party President Gerry Adams said Friday the party has decided McGuinness should meet the monarch, a decision that is sure to meet opposition from some Irish republicans, who want to end British rule in Northern Ireland.
“We don’t have to do it. We’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do, despite the fact that it will cause difficulties for our own folk,” Adams said.
“But it’s good for Ireland. It’s good for this process we’re trying to develop. It’s the right time and the right reason,” he added.
Buckingham Palace said it understood McGuinness had been invited to Wednesday’s event in Belfast for the Co-operation Ireland charity, which works to bring Catholic and Protestant communities together.
It was a sign of progress toward peace that the royal visit was announced several weeks in advance.