|The Queen and Martin McGuinness in Belfast today|
Even twelve months ago the above picture was totally unthinkable, Sinn Féin boycotted the Queen's visit to Southern Ireland only last year. Following an invitation by the then Irish President Mary McAleese. Although many Irish people are thought to of been appalled by Sinn Féin's, actions. The Queen while on her visit laid a wreath in the Garden of Remembrance and bowed to honour those who died for Irish freedom.
Later in the visit there was a state dinner in which the Queen made a speech which gained praise from all quarters including Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams. The Queen started her speech by saying “A Uachtaráin, agus a chairde” which translates as “President and friends” this caused President McAleese to turn to others at the table and saying "Wow" three times. The visit was seen as a triumph for the both Britain and Ireland and helped enormously get us to where we are today.
It is fourteen years since the Good Friday peace agreement was signed and it has had its problems along the way. Things like the marching season, which is coming up, always cause a flash point. The Stormont Assembly has been working well since 2007. When we saw Dr Ian Paisley of the Democratic Unionists - who famously yelled "never, never, never" in response to the Anglo-Irish agreement in the 1980s, standing together with Martin McGuinness a former Commander of the IRA.
That 2007 day was the start of the final march for peace in the province. Politically all politicians took a risk to see it through. John Major's government got the first IRA ceasefire in 1993 and the Labour opposition worked with the Tories, on one occasion refusing to back a DUP motion of no-confidence in the Major government as talking to Sinn Féin was the right thing to do. Once the roles were reversed the Tories were willing to work with Labour but it wasn't a blank cheque.
Tony Blair, regardless of what else people dislike him for, does deserve credit for persevering with the Northern Ireland peace process and finally getting agreement from the more hard line parties on both sides of the divide and the system of government in place in Northern Ireland just days before he left office in 2007.
The road to peace has been long and not easily passable, but the people and the politicians of Northern Ireland deserve credit for putting aside their differences and working together for peace. Today's handshake between the British Sovereign and Martin McGuinness was the final piece in the jigsaw and peace can be enjoyed on the entire Island of Ireland.