Britain’s Queen Elizabeth is visiting Northern Ireland for a two-day Diamond Jubilee tour and an historic meeting with Martin McGuinness.
The monarch will shake hands with the Stormont deputy first minister and former IRA commander tomorrow in a gesture which will herald another milestone in Anglo-Irish relations.
Speaking ahead of the meeting Mr McGuinness made reference to a famous remark by former prime minister Tony Blair before the 1998 Good Friday peace deal: “There was a lot of talk in the past about someone feeling the hand of history on his shoulder.
“This is about stretching-out the hand of peace and reconciliation to Queen Elizabeth who represents hundreds of thousands of unionists in the north.
“It is about me representing my party, wishing to show the unionist people in the north that we are prepared to respect what they believe in, albeit that we are still Irish republicans.
“I am an Irish republican now – after I meet with Queen Elizabeth, I will still be an Irish republican, and just as passionate about freedom, justice and peace, and reconciliation, as I was the day before.”
Like previous royal visits to Northern Ireland very few details about the itinerary have been officially released due to security concerns.
But the Queen, joined by the Duke of Edinburgh, will visit Enniskillen, County Fermanagh later today where she will attend a service of thanksgiving at the town’s St Macartin’s Church of Ireland Cathedral.
Tomorrow it is known that monarch will travel to Stormont in Belfast for a garden party attended by 22,000 guests in the grounds of the famous building.
Plans for the historic handshake are separate to the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee tour which has taken her across Britain from Leicester to London as she celebrates her 60-year milestone this year.
The meeting will take place at a celebration of culture at the Lyric theatre in Belfast which will also be attended by President Michael D Higgins.
The Queen and Mr McGuinness are set to meet initially in private alongside a handful of VIPs and while a photograph of the moment was ruled out last week, sources have now said discussions are ongoing around allowing the handshake to be recorded.
It comes after the Queen’s groundbreaking visit to Ireland last year when she laid a wreath at the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin, which honours republicans who died fighting British rule, followed by a tour of the headquarters of the GAA before she spoke Irish at a banquet in her honour.