“Now let’s be clear about this”, indeed.

Unusually for something associated with Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Shaun Woodward, MP, the reception at Hillsborough Castle today, in honour of Ireland’s grand-slam winning rugby team, has the potential to provide a clear picture of where we’re actually at. Reportedly to be in attendance are, in no particular order, Shaun Woodward, NI Sports Minister Gregory Campbell, the Republic of Ireland’s President Mary McAleese [although her office only lists a “reception to mark the 30th anniversary of Co-operation Ireland”] and, as suggested in the Irish News, the UK’s Queen Elizabeth II – who arrived in NI yesterday. The Irish News reports that the NI deputy First Minister, Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness, has declined an invitation to the reception. [subs req]

However, Mr McGuinness said, “Now let’s be clear about this the event is a British government sponsored event, organised and hosted by Shaun Woodward, the British Secretary of State. “In my opinion it is an inappropriate event in terms of its origin, organisation and location as an inclusive expression of the popular support on this island for the achievement of the rugby team. “I think the appropriate sponsored government event should be organised by our executive and assembly and not by a British direct rule minister.”

There has, of course, already been an Irish reception for the team. Adds NIO statement and a later BBC report.

Thirteen members of the squad and coach Declan Kidney joined Irish rugby legends from the past, including Jack Kyle and Willie John McBride

Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll said he realised the significance of the all-Ireland team meeting the Queen.

“I think the players from the Republic understand what the Queen means as much as the northern players do to the southern players when they meet Mary McAleese.

“So it’s a reciprocation and an understanding and it’s another opportunity to be patted on the back, so that can’t be a bad thing,” he said.