McGuinness to attend Queen's banquet

The North's Deputy First Minister and ex-IRA commander Martin McGuinness will attend a state banquet at Windsor Castle hosted by the British Queen, it has been confirmed.

The Sinn Féin politician will also be a special guest at other events during the historic official visit by President Michael D Higgins to the UK next week.

The former MP, who refused to sit in the House of Commons because of an oath of allegiance to the monarch, had declined to attend the gala banquet in honour of the Queen at Dublin Castle during her groundbreaking trip to the Ireland in 2011.

But in a statement today, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams confirmed Mr McGuinness would be visiting Windsor Castle and other official events in London during the four-day state visit beginning on Tuesday.

“While Martin McGuinness’s involvement in President Higgins’s state visit may not be welcome by opponents of change, it is yet another example of Sinn Féin’s commitment to an inclusive future based on tolerance and equality,” he said.

“This decision may cause difficulty for some Irish republicans in light of ongoing difficulties in the north (of Ireland) but 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.”

A Buckingham Palace spokesman said: ``There is a long-standing practice of not commenting in individual invitations. That said, Her Majesty is greatly looking forward to this historic state visit and welcoming all guests to Windsor Castle.''

The Queen met and shook hands with Mr McGuinness in Belfast two years ago, in what was seen as another step forward in Anglo-Irish relations.

The gesture that would have been unthinkable just years earlier was also a momentous landmark in the peace process.

Mr Adams said next week’s state visit by the President Higgins needed to be viewed against the backdrop of huge political changes over recent years.

“Sinn Féin seeks a new and positive relationship between Ireland – all of Ireland – and Britain based on equality and mutual respect for the first time in our troubled history,” he said.

“We also seek an agreed, united Ireland which accommodates those who define themselves as British.

“It is within this context that I can confirm that Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness will accept an invitation to attend all events as part of the state visit.”

The Queen is said to have taken a keen interest in the preparations for the four-day official trip – the first to the UK by an Irish head of state.

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