Trouble breaks out ahead of historic handshake

Rioting erupted in west Belfast last night ahead of an unprecedented
meeting later today [Wednesday] between Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness
and British monarch Elizabeth Windsor.

A crowd of more than 100 youths clashed with the PSNI at a shopping
centre near the Falls Road and Broadway roundabout in west Belfast.
Missiles, including petrol and paint bombs, were thrown at PSNI riot
squads and their armoured vehicles.  No injuries were reported.
Tensions had escalated all day following protests against the planned
meeting between McGuinness, a former IRA commander, and Windsor, the
commander-in-chief of the British Armed Forces.

McGuinness, the North’s Deputy First Minister, has resisted appeals to
call off his meeting, including a number from prominent Sinn Fein
supporters. He said the meeting between two would mark another historic
breakthrough for the peace process.

OPPOSITION WRIT LARGE

On Tuesday morning, nationalist protestors laid out a giant sign on the
side of Black mountain outside Belfast against the planned handshake.
Accompanied by a giant Irish tricolour flag, the sign read: ‘Eriu is our
queen’, referring to the legendary goddess-queen of Ireland, Eriu, from
which the island draws its name.

With each letter thirty feet in length, and the flag covering almost
one-sixth of an acre, the huge mountainside message made international
headlines.  But just hours later, five men who were involved in the
protest were set upon by a mob of over a hundred loyalists, many
wielding clubs and hammers.  The resulting clashes left three of the men
badly injured, and the sign was destroyed.

Community activist SeanCahill said one of the victims was sleeping in a
tent when he was attacked. “He was drenched in blood. It was just a
frenzied attack,” he said.  The man, from the Springhill area of
Belfast, was hospitalised with a serious head injury.

Organisers of the protest described it as an “art project” and “a
celebration of our heritage and culture” which had been supported and
funded by the working-class communities of west Belfast.

“It is the culture of a Gaelic people… who give no allegiance to any
foreign head of state.”

Following the loyalist attack, which they said was “purely sectarian”,
they appealed for support. “While others are shaking hands with a
foreign invader, true republicans have been beaten with hatchets, knives
and left hospitalised. What happened to the Ireland of equals that we
were promised?”

Community artist Gerard Kelly, who worked on the project with residents
and children from Springhlll in the upper Springfield area, said
thepiece was “just an expression of who we are”.

“The community wanted to do something to express our point of view,
that Eriu is our queen,” he said. “I respect everybody’s right to
believe in what they believe and I hope they respect my right to believe
what I believe and what my community believe.”

Local unionist MP Nigel Dodds said the protest was “offensive” and “a
futile gesture highlighting nothing other than their own failure”.

REACTION

Today’s planned encounter has sharply polarised the nationalist
community in the north of Ireland. While the Sinn Fein leadership has
backed what they argue is a historic peace move, a number of prominent
nationalists and republicans have protested against what they say is an
orchestrated humiliation for nationalists.

eirigi’s Breandan Mac Cionnaith said he was not surprised by the move.
He said Sinn Fein was only “paying lip-service” to demands by families
of British state violence for justice and truth while acting “as a prop”
for maintaining British injustice.

“The Sinn Fein leadership previously took the strategic decision to
gradually and consciously move that party away from its former role as a
vanguard of the anti-imperialist struggle in Ireland,” he said.

“One calculated outworking of that strategic decision in domestic terms
has been the unprecedented acceptance and copper-fastening of partition
by that party, and its consent to continuing British government control
over part of Ireland, to such an extent that the party is now a willing
and integral participant in operating the mechanics of partition and
injustice.”

A man wounded in the British Army’s Bloody Sunday massacre said he’s
“disgusted” that “so-called Irish republicans” will meet the British
monarch.

Speaking at a march and rally in Belfast at the weekend, Mr Donaghy –
the first person to be shot on Bloody Sunday – said it should never be
forgotten that, 40 years ago, Windsor “decorated the Parachute Regiment
with medals of honour for their part in the murder and attempted murder
of innocent people on the streets of Derry”.

He added: “The Queen’s Jubilee and future engagements in Ireland should
be treated with disdain.”

The march was also attended by Linda Roddy, whose brother was among
those murdered on Bloody Sunday.

She told marchers: “Does Martin forget that the queen decorated the
Parachute Regiment and that they remain decorated? Does he forget the
role of the queen’s forces in Derry and the murder of innocent civilians
and children such as Manus Deery, Annette McGavigan and many more?

“I hope you are happy with your new-found friends, Martin, for they are
the employers of the men who murdered our loved ones.”

Fra McCaughey, the sister of Sam Marshall, who was murdered by a
pro-British death squad in Lurgan in March 1990, said that “unless the
British queen is going to announce next week that she will instruct her
government and her forces to open up their secret files and set the
truth free, then I and my family see nothing to celebrate.”

SOUTH ARMAGH

A commemoration in south Armagh heard even stronger denunciations of
McGuinness. Provisional IRA founder Laurence O’Neill described his as “a
Judas” and “a traitor”.  He said that Mr McGuinness was “shaking the paw
of the queen of England as a guarantee that will see her dream come true
of Ireland remaining a cosy, peaceful colony”.

Around 500 people attended the commemorative rally for local IRA
Volunteer Sean O’Callaghan on Sunday including leading Lurgan republican
Colin Duffy, former Sinn Fein Assembly member Davy Hyland, and Breandan
MacCionnaith of eirigi. Former IRA hunger-strikers Tommy McKearney and
Gerard Hodgins were also present.

Mr O’Neill said republican grassroots had been “conned, betrayed, sold
down the river and told ‘not a bullet, not an ounce'”.

“Shame on those who sold us out. We were told the lie that the war was
at a stalemate — yet the IRA had 20 tons of weaponry in bunkers all over
Ireland.”

The rally was also addressed by former Sinn Fein Assembly member Pat
McNamee and former party representative Jim McAllister.

Mr McNamee said: “Don’t tell us that securing the current political
arrangements in the North was what the republican struggle was about.
Don’t tell us that a better partition is what people suffered and died
for.

“Sean O’Callaghan gave the best years of his life for an independent
32-county republic. He wouldn’t be attending the garden party or any
other Royal meeting this week.”

UNIONIST REACTION

Many British and unionist political figures have also argued that the
handshake amounts to an acknowledgement of British rule.

Norman Tebbit, a leading Tory and a former cabinet colleague of Margaret
Thatcher, claimed the move was an acceptance by the former Provisional
IRA commander of the failure of its campaign.

“I am glad that Mr McGuinness appears to have now accepted on behalf of
IRA/Sinn Fein the sovereignty of Her Majesty over Northern Ireland, and
I hope that this is a step towards a public recompense and confession”,
he said.

Bethan Jenkins of the Welsh nationalist Plaid Cymru party described
McGuinness as “naive” for going ahead with the meeting, while the
right-wing Daily Telegraph claimed that McGuinness had been successfully
“decommissioned” by the British establishment.

“Other than moving into Buckingham Palace and curling up like an old
green corgi at the foot of the queen’s bed, I’m not sure how much more
Sinn Fein could do to indicate that their war has been lost and the
surrender terms penned by the British,” said unionist commentator Alex
Kane.

The DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson said the handshake was necessary if Sinn
Fein man wanted to continue to share power at Stormont. “If Martin
McGuinness is to be the deputy first minister of Northern Ireland, he
needs to recognize that her majesty is head of state of the United
Kingdom,” he said.

McGUINNESS DEFIANT

Depsite the exceptional wave of hostility and disdain against him, Mr
McGuinness defended his decison to meet the queen.  He said it would be
an opportunity “to propel the peace process forward to a new
unprecedented level”.

Only a “tiny number” of people had disagreed with the move, he said.

“This is me stepping up to the plate, this is me moving forward to be
involved in an event which I hope sends a very clear signal to people
about the importance of reconciliation, and the importance of us working
together to ensure that the disasters of the past are not visited on the
children of the future,” he said.

He said it was important for him to extend the hand of peace and
reconciliation.

“I’ve shaken the hands of many unionists over the course of this peace
process, but it’s obviously physically impossible to shake the hands of
every one of those hundreds of thousands.

“So symbolically, when shaking the hand of Queen Elizabeth, I’m
extending the hand of peace and reconciliation to all my unionist
brothers and sisters.”

He said he would face a challenge on Wednesday, “but it’s a challenge I
will rise to.”

Mr McGuinness said massive strides had been made during the peace
process.

“The unthinkable in the past has come to pass, so other things that may
be unthinkable now I believe will come to pass in the future,” he said.
“But the next phase of this has to be a phase of reconciliation.”

He resisted pressure to limit the fallout from the meeting by asking
Buckingham Palace not to release photographs of the event. An official
royal photographer is expected to be present to capture the handshake.
McGuinness said that it would be “cowardly” if the moment he shook
Windsor’s hand was not captured on camera.

“Once I decide to do something I don’t hide behind doors, I don’t seek
secrecy for anything I do. I and the people I represent have the
confidence to step out front and be upfront about our actions and how we
believe those actions can contribute to making the place we live in a
far, far better place than it is at the moment,” he said.

Mr McGuinness indicated that he considered Windsor and her husband to be
among those who are victims of the conflict — Louis Mountbatten, an
uncle of Windsor’s husband, died in an IRA attack on his boat off the
Irish coast in 1979.

“I represent people who have been terribly hurt by British state
violence over many years. I also recognise I am going to meet someone
who has also been hurt as a result of the conflict, and someone who is
very conscious that in many homes in Britain there are parents, wives,
children, brothers and sisters of British soldiers who were sent here
who lost their lives in the conflict.”

He still had not decided how he would address Windsor, but that it was
unlikely to be “Your majesty”.

“These are not the sort of terms I use when I speak to people,” he said.

Mr McGuinness also rejected those who say his decision to meet Windsor
effectively recognised her as head of state.

“I am not a royalist. I am not a monarchist, I am an Irish republican…
the person I recognise as the head of state is President Higgins,” he
said.

He hoped the meeting would symbolically demonstrate to unionists that
they were valued and respected and to give them a “glimpse of what a
reunited Ireland would look like”.


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