The Prince of Wales has expressed regret over lives lost in the Troubles, Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams has said.
Mr Adams, one of the most prominent and controversial republican figures of the last 50 years, said he spoke to Prince Charles in a private meeting about the 1979 IRA bombing in which his great-uncle Lord Mountbatten was murdered.
“Both he and we expressed our regret for what happened from 1968 onwards,” Mr Adams said.
“We were of a common mind and the fact that the meeting took place, it obviously was a big thing for him to do and a big thing for us to do.”
The meeting took place at National University of Ireland Galway after the Sinn Féin chief and the Prince shook hands during a reception.
They sat down in a private room for 10 minutes in an engagement attended by the party’s Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and the British ambassador to Ireland Dominick Chilcott.
Prince Charles is greeted by Síle Maguire of the Department of Foreign Affairs at Shannon Airport. Picture: Sean Curtin Fusionshooters
Lord Mountbatten, the 79-year-old cousin of the Queen, was targeted by the IRA as he set off with family and a local teenager to gather lobster pots and fish for shrimp 550 metres from the harbour of the normally peaceful fishing village of Mullaghmore, Co Sligo.
Lord Mountbatten was murdered along with Lady Doreen Brabourne, the 83-year-old mother-in-law of the earl’s daughter, his 14-year-old grandson Nicholas Knatchbull, and 14-year-old Paul Maxwell, from Killynure, Enniskillen.
Mr Adams said the assassination in Mullaghmore was touched upon, along with atrocities committed elsewhere during the Troubles.
“We spoke about his loss and also the loss suffered by the Maxwell family, their son Paul, up in Mullaghmore,” Mr Adams said.
Prince Charles agreed to the meeting after a request by the Sinn Féin president in a move which would have been unthinkable until a few years ago. It set the tone for the four-day visit.
Mr Adams said the Prince felt able to empathise with other people who had suffered in the 40 years of violence.
“I think it was good that he’s come here and it’s good that he has come to Mullaghmore, and I think it’s good that we met,” he said.
Meeting Ciaran Hogan a basket maker from Ceardlann, Spiddal. Picture: Chris Bellew / Fennell Photography
“We did discuss the need for the entire process to move forward, particularly in terms of people who’ve suffered, families who’ve been bereaved. The need to heal, to heal relations between the people of these islands and on this island.
“He reflected on the fact that his suffering has given him an affinity and understanding with other people,” said Mr Adams
It is understood royal sources are looking on the meeting as productive and conciliatory and it is also considered that due credit is being given to the Queen for her efforts in visiting Ireland in 2011.
The royal couple plant a sessile oak tree beside the Quadrangle at NUI Galway. Picture: Hany Marzouk
As Charles and Mr Adams met in full public view in a packed hall as the Prince toured the university in the first engagement of his busy agenda, the two men smiled at each other, shook hands for several seconds and exchanged words. The meeting took place ahead of Charles’s walkabout today in the seaside village where the Mountbatten assassination occurred.
Mr Adams is the most senior republican to meet the Prince and it comes after his party colleague Martin McGuinness, the Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister and former IRA commander, shook hands with Charles at a state banquet in Windsor Castle last year and met the Queen in 2012.
However, the handshake with Mr Adams will chime with the theme of peace and reconciliation at the prayer gathering in St Columba’s Church, Drumcliffe, Co Sligo today, a few kilometres from Mullaghmore. It is also being looked upon as the next phase in ever-deepening friendships and bonds between the UK and Ireland.
Mr Adams added: “I said ‘céad míle fáilte ar ais’ (welcome back). I told him in Irish and English that it was good he was back in Ireland.”
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