At least the level of control would have put McGuinness at ease

AS a former IRA commander, there would have been one aspect of yesterday’s proceedings that would have thrilled Martin McGuinness: the control.

The IRA prided itself in discipline (though we now know that it was actually an organisation riddled with spies) and much of that iron discipline lives on in Sinn Fein.

Not so long ago, the vast security in place around the Lyric Theatre would have been to keep people like Mr McGuinness out – but yesterday it was to keep both he and the Queen safe within.

Every aspect of the historic scene was choreographed more carefully than any production which has graced the Lyric Theatre’s stage, and no troublesome journalists — other than one reporter from the Press Association in London — were going to get within sight, let alone earshot, of what transpired. Approaching the theatre from the Annadale Embankment about half-an-hour before Her Majesty was due to arrive, a police cordon of vehicles and half-a-dozen officers blocked the road before one could even see the Lyric across the Lagan.

Looping back and round to the other side of the river, the ring of steel was in place even further away from the theatre.

Perhaps mindful that areas of the lower Ormeau Road are hardline republican (a mural about stopping Orange marches on the lower Ormeau and Drumcree still adorns one wall in the area), the police on that side of the river appeared to be more prepared for trouble.

Officers standing blocking the Stranmillis embankment wore the dark overalls of the PSNI’s elite tactical support group, rather than the more relaxed short-sleeved shirts of their colleagues across the Lagan.

Moving up around to the north of the cordon, the Holylands student area was quiet, with a bin lorry collecting the rubbish just beyond the ring of steel.

One officer described it as a “sterile area”, while another said that he personally couldn’t understand why the cordon was so wide.

The absence of protests so near to an area associated with dissident republicans was striking.

Safety concerns mean that any Royal visit takes place under intense security.

But normally members of the media, accredited days in advance, are cleared to be within much closer proximity to the Royals.

The fact yesterday that only a single, hand-picked journalist was allowed to witness an event which, symbolically at least, is so important points to a certain nervousness.

But, if Mr McGuinness had any such nerves yesterday morning, perhaps the iron level of control surrounding the sterile area in which he shook Her Majesty’s hand will have eased his anxiety.