Martin McGuinness has heaped praise on Britain’s Queen for the way she influences the peace process.
The North’s deputy first minister, and former IRA commander, said the Queen’s invitation to him to visit her home at Windsor Castle had sent a very powerful message to the people of Ireland.
The Queen was ahead of the other elements of Britishness in pushing the peace process, Mr McGuinness said.
The Sinn Féin politician said it was clear the Queen was motivated by her own opinions and not being pushed into actions by the British government. “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,” Mr McGuinness said.
The Queen in turn complimented Mr McGuinness on the leadership he had given in bringing about peace when the two met at a Northern Ireland-themed reception that the British monarch hosted at Windsor Castle to mark the state visit of President Michael D Higgins.
Wife Sabina Higgins said there had been “a wonderful atmosphere” at the reception.
The remarks came as the cultural highlight of the President’s landmark visit to Britain saw the Royal Albert Hall come alive with a celebration of Irish music and poetry.
Elvis Costello, Imelda May, Glen Hansard, Lisa Hannigan, and Conor O’Brien of Villagers were among acts performing at the venue in a concert compèred by X Factor host Dermot O’Leary. The evening also saw readings by broadcaster Olivia O’Leary, actress Fiona Shaw, and author Joseph O’Connor.
Niall Horan from the chart-topping boyband One Direction was among the guests sitting alongside President Higgins in the royal box, as well as Prince and Princess Michael of Kent.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, Mr McGuinness, Arts Minister Jimmy Deenihan, Children’s Minister Frances Fitzgerald, and ex-Tory prime minister John Major also attended.
Those who also took to the stage included John Sheahan of the Dubliners, the Gloaming, and the Band of the Irish Guards.
Mr Higgins paid tribute to the Irish in Britain community represented in the hall, saying: “I thank you most sincerely for the fidelity you have shown to Ireland over many years; for the contribution you have made to the development of Britain; and for your part in the consolidation of an enduring friendship between our two countries.
“You remain a cherished member of the Irish family.”
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