London, June 24: In a historic first in the Northern Ireland peace process, Queen Elizabeth is due next week to meet and shake hands with Martin McGuinness, who was senior leader of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) that killed her cousin, Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India, in 1979.
McGuinness is now the Deputy First Minister for Northern Ireland.The Queen has never met a senior figure in the now-defunct IRA or its political wing, Sinn Fein.
McGuinness, an ex-IRA leader, was the chief negotiator for Sinn Fein during talks to end IRA's violence in Northern Ireland.
Last year, McGuinness had refused an invitation to meet the Queen during her visit to Northern Ireland.
Next Wednesday's meeting is seen as difficult for republicans in Northern Ireland who seen the Queen as the representative of an occupying country.
The meeting and the hand shake, which will happen in a closed door setting away from cameras, is seen as a major milestone in efforts to normalise relations between nationalists and unionists in Northern Ireland.
Sinn Fein has stressed the meeting is not a celebration of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams confirmed that his party's ruling executive had backed the planned meeting, but said: "This will understandably cause difficulties for some republicans and nationalists, especially for those folks who suffered at the hands of British forces."
He added: "We don't have to do it. We're doing it because it's the right thing to do, despite the fact that it will cause difficulties for our own folk.
But it's good for Ireland.
It's good for this process we're trying to develop.It's the right time and the right reason”.
Adams said that after the meeting with the Queen, McGuinness "will be as true, as staunch, as active a republican as he ever was."
Lord Louis Mountbatten was killed by a bomb blast on his boat in Ireland and the IRA claimed responsibility for the attack.
An IRA statement at that time said: "This operation is one of the discriminate ways we can bring to the attention of the English people the continuing occupation of our country."