McGuinness Meets Monarchy: a Missed Opportunity

The Left activist Tommy McKearney argues in Organised Rage that by refusing to meet the English queen, Martin McGuinness missed an  opportunity to not only explain a republican position but also raise questions about the very nature of the British monarchy and whose interest it serves.

Britain’s monarch recently visited Belfast and shook hands with Martin McGuinness, Deputy First Minister in the local devolved regional assembly. Throughout Northern Ireland the level of unemployment is as high as it was prior to the royal visit, security walls to keep neighbours apart are as permanent as they were before Elizabeth arrived and Northern Ireland’s local media has returned to reporting the usual tensions generated by the Orange Order in the run-up to the annual battle of the Boyne celebration on 12 July. In other words and in spite of the media ballyhoo, it is business as usual in this most westerly region of Mrs Windsor’s kingdom.

Of course it was a remarkable and notable media moment when Britain’s head of state (and commander in chief of the country’s armed forces) met with a former chief of staff of the Irish Republican Army. Undoubtedly, it was gripping drama to have the queen meet a reformed rebel. At the same time, there has been many similar memorable moments on British television and most receive their due recognition at the annual British Soap Awards. The handshake was of no greater significance than any other pointless gesture and contributed nothing to improving the quality of life for the masses.

Therein lies the real difficulty many of us have with this contrived handshake. It was merely a piece of theatre, which does nothing to address the real problems faced by the people of Northern Ireland. If anything, this type of symbolic posturing is actually harmful. It displaces and/or prevents mature and necessary debate and reflection on the unequal nature of our society and the detrimental impact of Britain’s ruling class upon the public’s well being. Martin McGuinness was presented with what was possibly a once in a lifetime opportunity to explain a republican position and philosophy, not just to the unionist people of Northern Ireland but also to the wider British population. As Deputy First Minister at the time of a jubilee visit, he would have had airtime on each network and coverage from every press outlet in Britain and Ireland. By refusing to meet the queen, Martin could have raised questions about the very nature of the British monarchy and in doing so, opened to scrutiny many of the
systemic faults afflicting contemporary society.

Why, he might have asked, is the monarchy still guilty of one of the most blatant acts of discrimination in the United Kingdom? The royal family adheres to the Act of Succession, which excludes from the throne every person who is not a practising member of the Church of England? This may not seem important to some but, nevertheless, it sends a dangerous signal to nasty elements in Britain that ancient and destructive privileges are justified as a birthright. Moreover, in the context of Northern Ireland, community relations are hardly improved by ignoring the fact that only a member of the reformed church is worthy of being head of state.

Martin McGuinness might also have raised the matter of Britain’s armed forces. Why did a man who witnessed the events of Bloody Sunday in his hometown, not seek to criticise an institution (i.e. the monarchy) that is uncritically supportive of Britain’s military? Britain’s soldiers and sailors have not only played a cruel part in Ireland’s history but Martin would have done well to point out that the current actions of British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are hardly beyond criticism either.

Most crucial of all perhaps was why Martin did not raise the issue of the profoundly anti-democratic practice of a having a hereditary head of state? Nothing reinforces the dire inequality produced by the British class system so much as the endorsement granted by monarchism to the transfer of power, prestige and wealth within the elite section of society. Gross inequality, which is at its worst in Britain since 1940 according to an article by Professor Danny Dorling in the Guardian is not only offensive to our sense of justice but is an economic blunder. Encouraging the over concentration of wealth in fewer hands not only deprives an economy of the spending power necessary to promote growth but also leads directly to the type of ‘casino’ capitalism that has caused the current financial crisis and the subsequent impoverishment of millions.

Had Sinn Fein and Martin McGuinness decided to adopt and articulate the republican position outlined above, unionists in Northern Ireland may well have criticised their decision. It would, however, have been a significant step towards inviting that community to deal meaningfully with Irish republicanism as a coherent philosophy rather than as a hostile ethnic identity. It would not have provided a panacea but then, allowing people to think that deference to monarchy is progress is hardly a remedy either. Moreover, it would have given Irish republicans a rare opportunity to make a positive and progressive contribution to a necessary debate about wealth and privilege in our neighbouring island across the Irish Sea.


  1. Why does Tommy have nothing to say regarding the shambolic mess the 26counties are in ? Unemployment is double the UK level. The royal family bring in more tourist revenue than they cost. Pity the same can't be said for politicans!

  2. How can we be republican and anti-monarchy then complain about the Act of Succession? Is a Catholic King or Queen a 'republican' monarch? The Queen has very little real power and can only 'suggest' or hope to influence Parliament. She's a pampered figurehead like wee Mickey 'D'. Nothing more. Had Marty Mi6 attempted to give a speel on republicanism during the visit he'd have been told to go stand in the corner, face the wall and keep quite...AND he would have complied...Oh, actually, he did already. I'm off to Aughrim this weekend to commemorate another 'near-miss' failure. Not as a royalist or republican but as one who needs a lads weekend out. God save the queens, John McGirr's favourite people!

  3. Tommy and his family have obviously suffered during the campaign of suppression by a foreign government in Irish affairs but that is no excuse to the capitulation to and subjection of true independant political veiw,to the current climate of political correctness.catch urself on Tommy

  4. Eddie,

    as always thanks for making the effort to comment on stuff here. I have read the piece and for the world of me cannot see the capitulation you refer to. I think it adds to the critique of the event that has already been made by a range of republican thought.


    same to you for your comments. The piece engages with the logic on its own terms and asks serious questions of it.

  5. Mackers
    I try not to judge any article by its authors reputation or standing. We all know what that has done for the SF membership and support base.

    The queen is tolerated by the british 'system' much the same as McGuinness and co. are...they are both useful. Remember, Britain doesn't have friends, it has 'interests'.

  6. Larry,

    which is the only sure way of judging any piece. I am always interested when somebody finds something in a piece that I have missed or misinterpreted. So when you and Eddie raise issues it immediately interests me. I think this is a pretty strong critique of the event that was not present in a lot of republican commentary.

  7. "The royal family bring in more tourist revenue than they cost."

    That's a total myth, but even if it were true, it would still make the monarchy a bad thing, are we men or mice?. Besides, there are plenty of industries which put money into the UK purse, mexican drug cartels is the latest example, but it does not make it a good thing, surely? BAE Systems are another.

    If anyone believes the Windsor monarchy is power less then they have not been paying attention. It sits at the heart of the cancer which is the putrid British class system which makes the UK one of the most unequal and undemocratic countries in the western world.

    It is not a mere slip of the pen that parliament, the military, police, etc,etc, swear allegiance to the monarchy not the people, or even the democratic state.

    One of the reasons why they do this is because if a government took power which was not to the ruling classes liking, the military and others would be free to oppose it without breaking their oath. Hitler bound the military to him in much the same way with tragic consequences for the German people.

    The Windsor's have real pull, to believe otherwise is to misunderstand the English class system.

  8. organised rage

    I would contend the monarchy and loyalty to it is an almost 'abstract' condition that prevents internal division in the UK. It is a mechanism that has worked well. Like Protestants in the north with the arse out of their trousers, living with outside toilets and squalor in East Belfast down the years being content in the 'knowledge' that they would always be superior to the superstitious Catholic 'unwashed'. Monarchical power is not a reality, but it serves the purpose perfectly. Just my take. I wouldn't get too worked up about the Monarchy. Like the Brits invading countless countries and the Unionists needed something to feel superior to, it will always be around. Unlike Ibrox..'we are the poeple' are 'no more'.

    If you really want to cause a stir, get Mackers, Tommy McKearney, Tommy Gorman and a few others of similar standing to stand for election as SDLP candidates, then watch 'republicans' in SF get totally confused...coz that's supposed to be them, isn't it.

  9. Organised Rage

    maybe these will help you smile??

  10. Larry "?" Hughes -Your "Marty Mi6" is getting tiring, It's a pity you don't have evidence to back up your wild conspiracy theory-It's child's play, You sound like a 5 year old shill with a bad joke.

  11. Liambo
    did i hit a raw nerve? ooops! Or was there something else brought you out of the woodwork? ... I ponder!

  12. Larry.

    I thought the second video was hilarious , but more informative as to who had money and who hadn't money, they both point to Murray, as for the first video, that was good as well, They sing, "God Save The Queen", but refuse to pay her taxes Like Celtic Does.

    At first I thought it was, "Bik" singing. lol

  13. Larry "The Shilster" Hughes- Alex Jone's would love you on his forums.

  14. Larry

    I know this is a sectarian free zone so in the name of equality I thought I better post this to add a little balance

  15. Alan.

    There is a lot I agree with , and, a lot I disagree with in Tom's Post.

    But firstly I have to correct you on your point of stating that the Royals bring in more revenue in tourism that it costs, That is a fallacy, The royal family got an extra £200,000 added to their budget this year, For what, To keep their business's running?, Can you afford to buy and breed expensive race horses, stable and feed them, and pay pittance to those who shovel the shit out, all on tax payers hard earned income tax. As for Toms post, I will admit, The Queen tried to speak a little Gaelic when she went to Dublin, She gave her apologies for all the hurt caused to Ireland, But, she has no right to ask Citizens of the Province of Ulster, which is one of the four Provinces of Ireland to pay to herself and her family, which is never ending Taxes for their upkeep, while they make Billions from property deals etc. I also do not think The Queen shaking Martyboys hand was theatrical, When the queen offered her hand for the handshake Martboy's face was gleaming with delight, to me, It was a preplanned sell out to still accept Unionist domination in Ulster, You just have to look at the footage on the Ardoyne Orange parade marching past the Ardoyne shops, Nothing was throwen at them ,then after that a legitimate protest march by C.A.R.C walking past Twaddell avenue when Bottles and bricks were thrown over RUC lines onto the legal protesters who had legal Stewards , one of which, Alan Lundy jnr was arrested on No evidence because an RUC camera man who filmed the whole parade except the part which he stated happened which led to the arrest of A young family man, yes he is a dedicated republican, so what, you have no idea how many dedicated true republicans there are , We didn't support the so called GFA, which we call, "Got Fuck All", and that is true, Tom is a leftist, I don't support a communist type United Ireland, we just have to look at china and other dictatorship countries to see that the poor get poorer and the rich get richer, I would support, One Tax for all, One basic wage for ALL, because every country needs taxes to pay for services, all utilities would be run by the state for the people and paid for by the people through taxation. As for the other 26 counties, and higher than normal unemployment figures!, today in Derry City, thousands of people applied for 14 vacancies at DFS store, that tells me there is a major problem which needs to be resolved on the unemployment level within this province. Lastly, The Windsors are powerless, they are self imposed beggars who live of the working class people while their banker friends get bailed out with our hard earned cash (Income tax) to prop their thieving greed up, MP's , MLA's TD's are no different, they live on dishonesty and Greed as well.

  16. Organised Rage.

    I loved that one, its a cracker.

  17. Organised rage

    myself and the mrs were in stitches at that. cheers!


    can't find much fault with that last post. But then again i'm not living in cloud cuckoo land.


    Marty Mi6 stands at Stormont with the chief constable, calls people traitors and SF call for informants and you are upset at my jibe? Head out of rectum would be my advice to yourself. SF and it's leadership have turned their backs on all things and all people republican for jobs they could have stood for at any time. Marty Mi5 shaking Queen Vics hand was a public demonstration of the SF negotiating skills.

    1. I Dont think this is the place to speak on Rats.

  18. Breaking news
    SKY SPORTS have apologised to all Rangers fans for saying Rangers will be playing in 3D this season...that should have been D3.

  19. Liambo. Maybe the steps of stormont might be more apt? SF membership work miracles every time they look in the mirror. The blind manage to see themselves.

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