McGuinness rebukes Tebbit remarks about hoping former IRA commander is shot in the back

Taoiseach Enda Kenny (top, centre) and Martin McGuinness, the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland
Taoiseach Enda Kenny (top, centre) and Martin McGuinness, the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister and ex-IRA commander Martin McGuinness has rebuked Lord Tebbit for saying he hopes he is shot in the back for attending a State banquet at the invitation of the Queen.

Mr McGuinness said the reaction of the former Conservative chairman to his historic visit to the Queen’s official residence and private home at Windsor was “not fitting” for someone who holds high political office.

“Norman Tebbit too and his family have been very badly hurt by the conflict,” he said.

“I absolutely understand that. Obviously the sentiments that he has expressed, I think, are not fitting for someone in the elected position he has been in for a very long time.”

Outspoken Lord Tebbit was injured along with his wife during the 1984 IRA bombing of the Grand Hotel in Brighton, which targeted the Conservative Party conference.

His latest remarks have been described by a senior Sinn Fein official, Danny Morrison, as advocating the assassination of Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister.

But Mr McGuinness told RTE radio he would not be drawn into a row over the comments.

“I’m not going to make an issue of it,” he said.

“Other people have certainly raised it with me, and some people have advocated that I should make an issue of it - I don’t intend to do so.”

Lord Tebbit said the Queen had no choice about Mr McGuinness attending the State banquet at Windsor Castle last night in honour of the visit of Irish President Michael D Higgins - the first time an Irish head of state has been officially invited to Britain.

He said: “There’s always the possibility that a member of the Real IRA will be so outraged by Mr McGuinness bowing to the Queen that they might shoot him in the back for it.

“We can but hope.”

Mr McGuinness said he had no qualms about standing and joining in a toast to the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and the people of the UK as an orchestra played God Save The Queen during the dinner.

“I went to Windsor Castle last night as an unapologetic Irish republican, and I’m still an unapologetic Irish republican this morning,” he said.

“So I think it is possible to do these things, particularly in the context of a very clear indicator that others - such as Queen Elizabeth in her visit to our country, both to Belfast and to the south - were prepared to show impressive leadership in the context of conflict resolution and acts of reconciliation.”

He added: “I believe I have the overwhelming support of the people of Ireland for what I did last night.”

Mr McGuinness said he understood the pain of people affected by the Troubles and defended their right to protest at his attendance.

“I understand that people are hurting as a result of the fall-out from the conflict and many in my community - in the republican, nationalist community - are also hurting as a result of the conflict,” he said.

“Different sections of that community come to this at different speeds.”

The former MP, who refused to sit in the House of Commons because of the oath to the Queen and who snubbed her ground-breaking visit to Ireland in 2011, also berated Prime Minister David Cameron over inaction in the Irish peace process.

“I had a word with David Cameron during the course of the event last night and told him that the British Government bears a huge responsibility in terms of moving this process forward,” he said.

“It is a responsibility they have not taken up in the course of recent times.

“And I said to him that I think it is vitally important that he has the same hands-on approach to resolving the outstanding issues as had the previous Labour administration.”

Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny bore the same responsibilities, he added.