Former IRA commander and Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has accepted an invitation to attend a British state banquet hosted by Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle.
The Irish Times and other media outlets report that McGuinness will attend the 8 April banquet, which honors Irish President Michael D. Higgins. It is the first official visit by an Irish head of state since the modern political separation of the two islands began in 1922.
McGuinness and the Queen shake hands in Belfast, July 2012.
The Wall Street Journal said the visit “is designed to underscore Ireland’s evolving acceptance that, before independence in 1922, its people weren’t always unwilling participants in the U.K. and the global empire it led, and the shared history of the two nations is less deeply antagonistic than once claimed by Irish nation builders.”
The Journal‘s story continues:
The exchange of official visits is the latest in a series of steps that have taken place over the last three decades and have marked a gradual but steady mending of fences between the two nations, once bitterly divided over the fate of the six Irish counties that remain a part of the U.K. … The formal process of reconciliation has lagged behind deepening links between British and Irish people. A quarter of British people have some recent Irish forbears, while 50,000 directors of current British companies were born in Ireland.
Of the Northern Ireland republican, the BBC says:
As a youth, Martin McGuinness wore the uniform of an IRA volunteer – secretly, illegally and defiantly. Now, decades later, he will don a white tie and tails and publicly, cheerfully and – perhaps -still defiantly, attend the Queen’s banquet at Windsor Castle. We should not be too surprised. His journey has already seen him shake the hand of the Queen. Not to attend the first state visit of an Irish president would undermine all his promises, made as an Irish presidential candidate, that he would work for peace.
Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams noted that McGuinness’s attendance might be a bridge too far for some republicans. “I would appeal to them to view this positively in the context of republican and democratic objectives and the interests of unity and peace on this island,” he said.