Queen Elizabeth says it would have been awkward not to shake Martin McGuinness's hand

Queen Elizabeth shakes hands then Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness in 2011. Picture by Paul Faith/PA Wire

IT is remembered as one of the peace process's most significant gestures of reconciliation but Queen Elizabeth shook Martin McGuinness's hand because it would have been awkward not to, a new book claims.

Brief details of the 2012 handshake are recalled in 'Queen of the World', a new book about the British monarch by Robert Hardman.

According to the book, the then British prime minister David Cameron said the queen downplayed the handshake with the late deputy first minister and IRA commander.

"She was, as ever, not sure what all the fuss was about," the former Tory leader told the author, adding that he disagreed and thought it was a very big deal indeed.

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"I think it was the most transformative bit of diplomacy I have seen. It was amazing," he says in the book.

However, according to Hardman, the queen’s response was typical of her “modest, no-nonsense approach”.

“What was I meant to do?” the monarch said.

“Of course, I shook his hand. It would be awkward not to.”

Former British ambassador to the Republic, Sir Julian King, claims Sinn Féin was slow to grasp the significance of the queen's state visit the previous year.

"Sinn Féin recognized that they hadn’t caught the mood because there were some huge approval ratings for the visit — 80 or 90 per cent – among Sinn Féin supporters there was a massive majority too," he told the author.

Mr McGuinness, who died in March 2017, later described the monarch as "very nice".

"I don’t think that surprises people," he said on RTÉ, pointing to how the Queen had conducted herself during her visit to the Republic.

Queen Elizabeth with President Mary McAleese during the monarch's 2011 state visit to the Republic. Picture by Paul Faith/PA Wire

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