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Sunday 1 July 2012

McGuinness embraces his defeat

The Provos lost their 'war' -- that is the real meaning of the royal handshake, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards

Idly, I looked at the court circular in my London Times on Thursday. This includes the official record of the engagements carried out the previous day by the Queen or by others acting on her behalf. There it was.

"Her Majesty and His Royal Highness this morning visited the Lyric Theatre, 55 Ridgeway Street, Belfast, and were received by the chairman of Co-operation Ireland (Mr Christopher Moran), Mr Peter Sheridan (chief executive) and the chairman of the Lyric Theatre (Mr Mark Carruthers).

The Queen, patron, Co-operation Ireland, and the Duke of Edinburgh joined the Rt Hon Peter Robinson MLA (First Minister of Northern Ireland), Mr Martin McGuinness MLA (Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland), the President of Ireland and Mrs Higgins in viewing an exhibition of portraiture and subsequently attended a reception for the arts given by Co-operation Ireland."

The court circular follows royal protocols strictly, which is why President Higgins -- a foreign dignitary present in a private capacity -- was listed after the Queen's ministers, her subjects.

"Pour boiling oil o'er the flunkey wot wrote that!" observed a Facebook friend. "The President is, of course, co-patron of Co-operation Ireland."

There is probably some arcane reason for not mentioning that, but the reason the flunkey should be at the very least in the stocks is for misspelling the Deputy First Minister's name.

The Times had corrected it, but when I looked at the Buckingham Palace website, he was there as "McGinness". Oh, dear! I think the poor chap should write a stiff letter, pointing out that it's bad enough for an erstwhile Top Terrorist to be classified as a subject of the woman he used to call Mrs Windsor but now calls the Queen, without someone getting his name wrong.

This was an error. I expect the hapless junior official didn't know McGuinness from a bag of carrots. But it's a bit of a metaphor all the same.

There was quite a bit of huffing and puffing in the British media about the blood on McGuinness's hands and the fetching photograph was on front pages. But actually, although the British public hate the IRA, few got worked up. They're relieved that various IRAs aren't murdering

in England and that Northern Ireland seems to be quiet.

If keeping the peace requires the Queen to shake hands with some person they are believed to consider as ghastly as Ian Paisley -- if slightly less appalling than his side-kick Gerry Adams -- so be it.

McGuinness has spun the handshake as "a very pointed, deliberate and symbolic way of offering the hand of friendship to unionists through the person of Queen Elizabeth, for which many unionists have a deep affinity."

In truth, after the disaster that was Sinn Fein's opposition to her successful state visit last year, there was no chance that McGuinness would make the same mistake again.

He shook her hand with an eye to southern opinion and tried to placate angry NI Shinners by making a fiery speech in London the following day, complaining that: "The British state has refused to even acknowledge its role as a combatant in the conflict", that it is failing to address "the legacy of the conflict" (rich, coming from the unrepentant Top Provo), that it's making "stupid and unhelpful decisions", like sending some released prisoners back to jail for breaching their licence and by refusing to hold further public inquiries.

David Cameron, he complained, has refused to engage. He and Peter Robinson, said McGuinness with outrage, have met President Obama more often than the prime minister.

A Conservative Party spokesman was dismissive.

"It is impossible to think of any political crisis in NI today that requires the attention of the PM over and above dealing with the worst global economic crisis in 80 years and the crisis in the eurozone -- something which would, of course, benefit every single person in Northern Ireland."

That's about the size of it. When he has time to think about the UK, Cameron worries about the referendum on Scottish independence.

Thousands of IRA victims will have found the handshake distressing, but the majority are pragmatic. While some unionists have felt betrayed, the astute ones -- happy that a recent NI poll showed support for a united Ireland down to seven per cent -- see it as did that perceptive unionist commentator, Alex Kane.

He wrote: "For this generation of 'armed struggle' republicanism, the meeting represents the closure of their campaign. Yet in embedding Sinn Fein so deeply into the British system and into an internal settlement he [McGuinness] has also closed the door for many more generations. Sinn Fein has been trapped, stuffed and mounted and unionism is stronger today than it has ever been."

That's how many NI republicans see it. McGuinness will not be resting easy on his home turf.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

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