BELFAST, Northern Ireland, June 22 (UPI) -- Martin McGuinness, the Irish rebel turned Northern Ireland politician, said Friday he will meet and shake hands with Queen Elizabeth II next week.
The queen is scheduled to spend two days in Northern Ireland as part of her Jubilee tour of Britain. McGuinness, a leader of the Republican Sinn Fein Party and the province's deputy first minister, will attend a reception Wednesday morning with First Minister Peter Robinson and Michael Higgins, president of the Irish Republic, The Daily Telegraph reported.
The announcement of the unprecedented meeting was hailed as a sign of progress in Northern Ireland. Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president, called it "the right thing to do at the right time and for the right reasons."
"It shows great magnanimity on both sides," said Patrick Mercer, a Conservative member of Parliament who served as an army officer in Northern Ireland. "It is hard to swallow, but reconciliation is reconciliation."
In the past, Sinn Fein regarded the queen's visits to Northern Ireland as occasions for protest. The royal family was also personally affected by the conflict in Northern Ireland in 1979 when Earl Louis Mountbatten, Prince Philip's uncle and a distant cousin of the queen, was killed by an IRA bomb.