McGuinness and the Queen: All about choreography rather than principle

Useful conversation on UTV last night between Brian Feeney and Alex Kane on ‘the deal’ that apparently is ongoing regarding Martin McGuinness’s ‘price’ for shaking hands with the Queen:

It’s all about choreography. In particular Feeney says its about photographs [What, again? – Ed]. Photographs of Martin stuck with the UK’s head of state and a sea of Union flags at his back.

And over at the Beeb, Mark Devenport notes McGuinness’s line was that it was a huge ask for republicans [What, no word about the poor old Queen? – Ed].

Yet just over a year ago, with exception of the Mayor of Cashel, the party held the line against meeting with her royal personage. Then on the first day of campaigning in the Presidential election Martin volunteered that if elected, he would meet the Queen.

So, aside from choreography, it is hard to know what the problem is. Not least when every other republican party on the island has long since reconciled itself (14 years after that all island plebescite) to meeting the head of the United Kingdom.

Mark quotes a republican source:

…there’s a real debate within republican ranks about the wisdom of meeting a monarch. According to this version the political process is more “paper thin” than commentators sometimes believe.

But as he also notes:

…the cynic in me wonders whether Sinn Fein simply want to inject uncertainty into the proceedings in order to create more suspense prior to announcing a positive decision.

The party have long been masters of clever news management.


And when there’s not much else happening in what passes for Northern Ireland’s political world, why not keep the suspense going a little long by cashiering the bulk of your MPs from Stormont and having a very public ‘think’ about something most pundits reckon you’ve already decided?

As Devenport closes, he says of McGuinness:

…in recent years he’s been proud to take big steps. Would he be happy if the ard comhairle box him in to what might be seen as a limited, constrained response as opposed to the more expansive gesture he has previously hinted at?

If it’s no secret what your final decision is going be (regardless of the negotiations), then the party’s hand in negotiations with the Secretary of State and the NIO will hardly be that strong.

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  • Drumlins Rock

    Ahh the image it paints of Her Majesty waltzing round the Great Hall of Stormont with her newly appointed Baron of the Manor of Nothstead, and the Duke of Edinburgh scowling down with a stare that would melt diamonds.

  • SDLP supporter

    ‘panem et circenses’-‘bread and circuses’. It’s all play-acting by Provisional Sinn Fein to distract the support base while this economy and society continues down the tubes. Quite amusing when you consider that, even after 1916, Sinn Fein was a monarchist party and wanted to offer the throne of Ireland to minor German royalty as long as they weren’t Hanoverians.

  • I dont actually see anything in the Visit/Garden Party for republicans/nationalists.
    People who are a political will get something out of it. It should be quite an occasion.
    Unionists will get something out of it….as indeed they should.
    And the “lets get alongerist” community will get something out of it.
    And I suspect many in those two communities will get something out of Sinn Féin and broader republicanism/nationalisms discomfort.
    Its a lose-lose situation for Sinn Féin. If Mr McGuinness meets her, then there will be gloating from the usual suspects. If he is unavoidably detained washing his hair or something then he will face synthetic anger at the snub.
    He probably feels much the same way about it all as any republican (myself and even “English” republicans included). I have the luxury of not being a public figure and therefore nobody cares what I think, say or do.
    But the lesser of two evils for Mr McGuinness is to develop a bad case of the flu..the contagious kind that will adversely affect all his colleagues and those on the nationalist benches.
    Im already feeling a bit poorly myself.

  • Mick Fealty


    SDLP reps have been going along to Royal Garden parties at Hillsborough for years, so it’s hardly a deal breaker for whatever the opposite of ‘getalongerism’ is…

    It’s part of the structure of the state we live in. You don’t have to love it to grin and bear and do it. Nor do you necessarily have to park your republican principles.

  • Drumlins Rock

    I dare say quite a few Republicans of all sorts have met the Royals, whether as Community Representatives or Civil Servants, just not as SF representatives. SF missed the chance of smoothing the way last year, I’m sure there were other chances too for a low key meeting to occur, but Marty has chosen the most high profile occasion, deliberately it would appear, even if it is carried out in a private setting.

  • Exactly. But for a start these garden parties dont have 10,000 people attending. And Id be surprised if there wasnt a certain amount of flag waving and British national anthem singing.
    SDLP reps will hardly lose any votes over attending. Like I say even in England “English” republicans have to grin and bear it……as “public representatives”.
    Personally I would not attend…..but Im not a public representative. I dont have to be pragmatic.
    Nor do I think Mr McGuinness needs to be.
    He can lose votes. And will gain none.
    What exactly is in it for Sinn Féin?

    “Lets get alongerism” is the third ethnic grouping.

  • Alias

    Danny Morrison meeting Pince Charles, the Shinner Mayor of Cashel meeting the Queen, and the ‘will he, won’t he’ McGuinness charade are all designed to promote the state’s normalisation agenda in incremental steps. McGuinness has to be allowed to do his ‘republican man of principle’ for the sheep act before he leads them to accept the legitimacy of the Queen as their head of state. The Shinners and their handlers know how to manage the sheep so it should just be left to them to decide when the time is right and how to go about it.

  • Mick Fealty


    I’ve was at one in Hillsborough about nine years ago (on foot of having published ‘The Long Peace’) and it was an altogether more restrained occasion (with slightly stale white bread sandwiches) than you might imagine.

    Not sure it would be quite so sedate at Stormont.

  • Thats true but Sinn Féin has always moved at the speed of the slowest horse in the troop.
    But theres a wider constituency……….members, hard core voters and “soft voters”.
    Some of those soft votes………and I after all was one of them……voted SF in part because the SDLP was more likely to do unplatable things ……like attending “Royal Garden Parties”.
    Take away this and SF seems at least as likely to be involved in too many compromises over the next decade.
    It wont affect the thinking of SFs membership or hard core voters. But if its a simple choice between two constitutional nationalist parties, then that strengthens the choices of the soft voters.

  • Mr Fealty you move in better circles than me 😉
    It wont be sedate at Stormont. Thats my point.
    Incidently the HR Departments in various establishments are already drawing up lists of attendees.
    I have an awful feeling Mrs FJH will be invited.

  • Mick Fealty

    And so does Mrs FJH by the looks of it! 😉

  • Ah you shouldnt assume she would go.
    Im checking the small print to see if she took a vow of obedience.
    Besides she would insist on “Queen” curtsying to her. And my money would be on Mrs FJH if Security got involved.

  • Drumlins Rock

    I think the flag waving will be left to the wee unns, if any are there, 10,000 is on quite a large scale event, but my suspicion is it will be class but low key, I’m trying to get a ticket! so if you want to pass yours on FJH? even better can we not meet up there for a good old chat?

    Curtsies are optional.

  • vanhelsing


    Sounds like Mrs FJH is quite some woman – I’ll be there – in fact I have a couple of tickets left if you need a spare:)

    I notice a slight hardening of the line with SF over the last few days. I’m sure it wouldn’t diminish Martys republican ideals but I wonder if genuinely are they concerned about shedding votes of their right hand side?

    It’s a garden party but I would imagine it will be a ‘patriotic’ one:) My mother in particular is looking forward to it..


  • No no no….Drumlins Rock. I am the Sea Green Incorruptible. I cannot engage with fellow bloggers. Id only start to like people and that would be a very bad thing 😉

  • Drumlins Rock

    yeah discovered that FJH, in fact when I have met bloggers on social occasions I seem to get on better with “the wrong sort” and you can’t have that happen can you? lol Back on topic, I actually think Marty and ERII could get on quite well once the formal bit is over.

  • vanhelsing


    Do you need a ticket? I know that some are being distributed at Assembly and Council levels. Others though voluntary and stat orgs. If you know someone in ‘politics’ they should be able to sort you out. I’m wary of mentioning other details on a website. Apologies also to Mick for turning Slugger into Ticketmaster. If you’re completely stuck Mick has my email and can give it to you.


  • London_Irish

    Perhaps Sinn Féin will revert to the tactics deployed during Caitríona Ruane’s tenure in education and send John O’Dowd to meet Liz instead…

  • Drumlins Rock

    VH, I know plenty in politics, think I should get one ok, they had better deliver!

  • cynic2

    “the HR Departments in various establishments are already drawing up lists of attendees”

    ….in their own time I hope?

  • cynic2

    “Perhaps Sinn Féin will revert to the tactics deployed during Caitríona Ruane’s tenure in education and send John O’Dowd to meet Liz instead…”

    Wasn’t that because he had perfected the art of walking and talking at the same time?

  • cynic2

    I agree that fro SF that this is an issue of principle and perhaps a step too far.

    As Marty glides away from his British Ministerial Office in his British Ministerial Car, driven by his salaried Drivers (paid for by the British State) and with the chink of his British Ministerial salary in his pocket, it might just be too much for members of the Republican Movement (which ,after all, he left so many many years ago to see him also hob-nobbing with Liz, Gawd Bless Her.

    I think too that Unionists should applaud the Man for sparing her the embarrassment in having to shake hands with him and ask the $65,000 question that all those Tele Readers were expressing today -“Tell me my man, just what do you DO at Stormont?”

  • Mister Joe

    “Marty O Marty, where have you been?”
    “I’ve been up to Stormont to visit the Queen.”
    “Marty O Marty, what did you there?”
    “I frightened her at the sight of of my hair.”

  • London_Irish


    Not sure if the big man from Upper Bann is quite as multi-talented as you suggest, but at least he can answer a yes/no question without reminding us that this is an issue of equality and the plight of children from the Shankill, unlike his predecessor.

  • separatesix

    So Sinn Fein have a problem with the Jubilee party at Stormont, I had a problem with old Michael D Higgins first official visit to Belfast, but nobody consulted unionists about that, so why should Sinn Fein’s views be taken into consideration over this. Peter Robinson had no issue meeting McAleese. In view of McGuinness’s refusal to meet Her Majesty hopefully Robinson snubs Michael D if it returns.

  • RyanAdams

    “In view of McGuinness’s refusal to meet Her Majesty hopefully Robinson snubs Michael D if it returns.”

    I don’t think Robinson stooping to McGuinness’s antics is likely in an era where ‘outreach’ is the order of the day. Frankly its in Robinson’s interest to get on well with Michael D in relation to SF – “My enemies enemy is my friend”

  • JR

    Robinson met Mary Mc as a visiting head of state, ditto for the Mayor of Cashel. There is a key differance between meeting visiting forign head of state and meeting somone who is supposed to be your head of state.

    The queen claims McGuinness as a subject but Michael D does not claim Robo as a citizen.

  • JR

    I think McGuinness should politely decline the meeting, Bring a Southern Sinn Feiner up to meet the queen.

  • lover not a fighter

    How about Mary Lou McDonald in fancy dress.

    The royals and royal followers love a fancy dress do.

    Prince Harry may have an old outfit lying around !

  • Reader

    JR: There is a key differance between meeting visiting forign head of state and meeting somone who is supposed to be your head of state. The queen claims McGuinness as a subject but Michael D does not claim Robo as a citizen.
    The Queen is the UK head of state. Northern Ireland is part of the UK (agreed in the GFA and now acknowledged in the Irish Constitution). However, the Queen isn’t claiming that Marty is a UK citizen or subject. He is simply a resident and a minister in the UK.
    In the end, surely what will happen is he will smile, shake hands, welcome her as a visitor to Ireland and otherwise subtly indicate that he hopes she will have a nice visit and not hang about too long.

  • Mister Joe

    I think that McGuiness probably would have met the Queen but it’s unlikely now given the public controversy.