Let’s be blunt about this: Martin McGuinness didn’t join the IRA and become the de facto commander-in-chief of the army council just to end up at a function in which he will be ‘presented’ to Her Majesty during a tour of her United Kingdom!
But the meeting between McGuinness and the Queen still represents a form of closure for both of them. Last year she was welcomed in Dublin as a visiting head of State. In a couple of days time she will be in Northern Ireland, recognising the fact that the Province is as much a part of the UK today as it was when she became Queen in 1952. And when McGuinness meets her, he will be – however reluctantly – acknowledging exactly the same thing.
For this generation of ‘armed struggle’ republicanism the meeting represents the closure of their campaign. Yet in embedding Sinn Fein so deeply into the British system and into an internal settlement he has also closed the door for many more generations.
Sinn Fein has been trapped, stuffed and mounted and unionism is stronger today than it has ever been. It never needed majority rule to secure its base. What it needed most was a political arrangement – inside the United Kingdom – endorsed by a majority of people across Ireland and underwritten by the British, Irish and American governments. That’s what it now has and Sinn Fein (with Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams in particular) has been instrumental in securing that arrangement.
So it seems somehow fitting that McGuinness should trot along to a nicely choreographed event – one of those lovely occasions in which all of the political and PR boxes have been carefully ticked – and do whatever it is he has to do. I suspect it will be a very difficult personal and psychological moment for the Queen: but maybe she can take some unspoken comfort from the fact that she comes here as Head of State and that Northern Ireland will remain part of the United Kingdom for a very, very long time to come.
And Martin, bless him, is still one of her citizens and subjects. Three cheers, say I!
As ever, do read the whole thing.