By Fiona Smith, dpa (TNS)
DUBLIN — Britain’s Prince Charles and Gerry Adams, leader of the nationalist party Sinn Fein, shook hands Tuesday in a landmark meeting at the start of the prince’s four-day visit to Ireland.
Adams and another senior Sinn Fein leader, Martin McGuinness, were among a number of politicians to greet the prince at the National University of Ireland Galway.
The meeting was the first of its kind in the Republic of Ireland between the Sinn Fein leadership and a member of the British royal family.
Prince Charles and Adams smiled at each other, shook hands for a few seconds and exchanged brief remarks.
Adams said the meeting was “a significant symbolic and practical step forward in the process of healing and reconciliation.”
“All victims, including those bereaved by the IRA (Irish Republican Army), deserve justice, and it is crucial that the process of healing and of reconciliation is enhanced and strengthened,” he said.
“I hope today’s meeting will assist this and that the governments and political parties will build on this opportunity,” Adams said.
Sinn Fein, considered to be the political wing of the IRA, had at one time objected to meeting members of the royal family because of their links to Britain’s armed forces.
Charles’ office, Clarence House, said he and Adams also held a ten-minute meeting in a private room with McGuinness and Dominick Chilcott, Britain’s ambassador to Ireland, in attendance.
“His royal highness agreed to the meeting after a request by the Sinn Fein president (Adams),” Clarence House said.
In a speech at the university, Charles paid tribute to his hosts.
“I am so overwhelmed and deeply touched by the extraordinary kindness, the welcome, the enthusiasm, indeed the fun of being in Ireland,” he said.
Northern Ireland was rent by conflict for 38 years, in which Catholic nationalists sought a united Ireland and Protestant Unionists sought to remain in the United Kingdom. The Troubles were brought to a close in 2007 through a peace process that led to power-sharing in the province.
In 2012, McGuinness shook hands with Queen Elizabeth at a function in Belfast’s Lyric Theatre in Northern Ireland in his capacity as the region’s deputy first minister.
The previous year, Sinn Fein declined to let McGuinness accept an invitation to a state banquet at Dublin Castle during the queen’s historic visit to Ireland.
On Wednesday, her son Charles, accompanied by his wife, Camilla, the duchess of Cornwall, is scheduled to visit the village of Mullaghmore in County Sligo where his great-uncle Earl Mountbatten was killed by an IRA bomb in 1979.
Later Tuesday, the prince was to visit the Marine Institute at University College Galway and the Burren, a karst landscape in County Clare known for its natural beauty.
The couple are then due to attend a private dinner with President Michael Higgins and his wife, Sabina at Lough Cutra, in County Galway.
Security is expected to remain tight throughout the visit with road closures and restricted access to all locations.
Charles is colonel-in-chief of the Parachute Regiment, which was responsible for the deaths of civilians during “Bloody Sunday,” a demonstration in 1972 in Derry, Northern Ireland.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has apologized for the events of Bloody Sunday after the Savile report found British soldiers fired on unarmed civilians, killing 13, at a protest against internment without trial.
Photo: Adam Gerrard via Daily Mirror/PA Wire/Abaca Press/TNS