SINN Fein’s Martin McGuinness will meet the Queen next week and shake hands in a historic first for the Northern Ireland peace process, the party confirmed.
The Deputy First Minister of the Stormont executive will attend an event in Belfast on Wednesday, which the President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, will also attend.
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said the decision had been taken after consulting with grass roots support and allowing the party’s ruling council, the ard comhairle, to decide at a meeting in Dublin.
“This will understandably cause difficulties for some republicans and nationalists,” Mr Adams said.
“Especially for those folks who suffered at the hands of British forces.”
Mr Adams said Sinn Fein wanted to see a new republic in which the traditions of orange and green could be brought together in a cordial union.
The decision was not unanimous but was a clear majority, the party confirmed.
Leading cross border charity Co-operation Ireland is to host an event for the Queen and President Higgins to celebrate arts and culture across the island.
There has been speculation since the Queen’s momentous visit to Ireland in May last year that a senior Sinn Fein figure would meet her.
Mr McGuinness, a former IRA commander, was always the candidate to shake the Queen’s hand but delicate talks have been going on for months to arrange a suitable venue and occasion.
Sinn Fein have stressed the meeting is not a celebration of the Jubilee.
Mr Adams defended the decision, saying: “We don’t have to do it. We’re doing it because it’s the right thing.”
Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny, in Scotland at the British-Irish Council summit, said he had been confident the handshake would be agreed to.
Mr Kenny said. “The Queen herself said, in hindsight, if we could do things again there are some things that we might do differently – and some things that we wouldn’t do at all.”