President attends Northern Ireland-themed event at Windsor Castle
President Michael D Higgins was one of more than 200 guests from the worlds of politics, business and athletics to attend a Northern Ireland-themed reception this afternoon hosted by Britain's Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle.
The event, part of the President's state visit, was held to recognise the contribution of British and Irish individuals who have furthered co-operation, enterprise and culture between Britain and the North.
Guests included First Minister of Northern Ireland Peter Robinson, Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness and Theresa Villiers, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh greeted and chatted to the guests, who included MPs and MEPs from the North, and medal-winning Olympic and Paralympic athletes.
Mr McGuinness shook hands with the Queen and congratulated her on her role in peace-making in Ireland.
He said: “The Queen’s visit to Dublin and how she conducted herself – her words at the memorial and Dublin castle and how she reached out to all victims without differentiating – were all hugely impressive.
“She had many reasons not to meet me, and me her, but I think we’ve risen above that and seen the contribution that these big acts of reconciliation can have.”
“I’m overjoyed for the president. He is my president and I’m delighted he’s been accorded such a great welcome. The week will be noted for its spirit of generosity and peacemaking,” added Mr McGuinness.
Mr McGuinness’ attendance at a state banquet on Tuesday led to a political row after former Conservative chairman Norman Tebbit said: “There’s always the possibility that a member of the Real IRA will be so outraged by Mr McGuinness bowing to the Queen that they might shoot him in the back for it. We can but hope.”
The Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister and ex-IRA commander later rebuked Lord Tebbit, who was injured along with his wife in the IRA bombing of The Grand Hotel in Brighton in 1984.
The Irish ambassador to Britain, Dan Mulhall, described the visit, now in its third day, as the “most memorable week of my 35-year career”.
Speaking at the state banquet for President Higgins on Tuesday, the Queen said of the peace process in the North: “Our two governments will continue to work together in Northern Ireland to support the First and Deputy First Minister and the Executive to advance the peace process and to establish a shared society based on mutual respect and equality of opportunity.”
Ms Villiers said: “It’s hard to think of two countries that have so many cultural, social and economic links.
“Historic is a word that is over-used, but this week is a great demonstration of how far we’ve all come.”
This afternoon’s reception was being followed by a Ceiliuradh (Celebration) at the Royal Albert Hall in London – an Irish cultural concert of music, spoken word and dance. President Higgins and his wife, Sabina, were to be joined by Prince and Princess Michael of Kent.