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Northern Ireland news

Historic moment Martin McGuinness shook hands with Queen Elizabeth

Queen Elizabeth II shakes hands with Martin McGuinness in 2012
Deborah McAleese, Press Association

The handshake lasted mere seconds, but it was a moment of historic significance when Martin McGuinness and Queen Elizabeth first shook hands.

Such a gesture between the former IRA commander and Her Majesty would once have been unimaginable.

However, at a charity event in Belfast on a Wednesday morning in June 2012 the hand of friendship was extended.

"I feel so privileged to have witnessed that significant and historic moment," said former PA photographer Paul Faith.

Mr Faith was the only photographer allowed access to photograph the handshake.

"I remember that Martin appeared very relaxed and confident and happy to stand beside the Queen.

Martin McGuinness' historic first meeting with Queen Elizabeth

"The significance of it for me didn't really sink in until the next day when I saw the pictures in the papers.

"Every front page was carrying the photograph and it hit me that this was going to be a historic image," said Mr Faith.

He added: "The day after the handshake I was sitting in the press room at the Irish Open and Martin McGuinness came in with Peter Robinson.

"He came over to me and shook my hand and said 'you've made me famous again'. He then asked for a photograph of him and I shaking hands.

"I also took the photograph of him and Ian Paisley that led to them being called the Chuckle Brothers.

"He later signed that photograph for me and said 'so Paul, you're the one who turned me into a Chuckle Brother. Well done'."

Martin McGuinness meets Queen Elizabeth at Hillsborough Castle in 2016

The day after shaking hands with the Queen, Mr McGuinness spoke about its "momentous and historical" significance.

He said that the meeting had the potential to define "a new relationship between Britain and Ireland and between the Irish people themselves".

In a speech in Westminster he said the handshake "was in a very pointed, deliberate and symbolic way offering the hand of friendship to unionists through the person of Queen Elizabeth for which many unionists have a deep affinity".

"It is an offer I hope many will accept in the same spirit it was offered," he said.

Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton described the handshake as "the most remarkable sign of change yet" in the Northern Ireland peace process.

A few years later Mr McGuinness paid tribute to Queen Elizabeth for meeting him.

"I liked her courage in agreeing to meet with me, I liked the engagements that I've had with her. There's nothing I have seen in my engagements with her that this is someone I should dislike - I like her," he told a BBC documentary.

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