Sinn Fein leader plays down lack of meeting with Prince of Wales

Sinn Fein’s president has denied the lack of a party meeting with Prince Charles on his visit to Northern Ireland was linked to his association with a regiment involved in the Ballymurphy shootings.

Mary Lou McDonald urged people not to “over read anything” in regard to why the engagement between Sinn Fein Stormont deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill and the Prince of Wales did not go ahead on Tuesday.

In recent years, it has become established practice for DUP and Sinn Fein leaders to meet senior royals when they visit the region.

Royal visit to Northern Ireland
The Prince of Wales meets First Minister Arlene Foster (Kelvin Boyes/PA)

DUP First Minister Arlene Foster did meet the Prince on Tuesday evening, but a meeting with Ms O’Neill did not materialise.

Mrs McDonald noted that Charles is the colonel-in-chief of the Parachute Regiment, but she said that was not the reason why the engagement at Hillsborough Castle did not proceed.

Soldiers from the regiment were involved in the fatal shootings in Ballymurphy in west Belfast in 1971.

Last week, a coroner ruled that ten victims, nine of whom were shot by the Army, were all “entirely innocent”.

Flanked by Ms O’Neill at a Stormont press conference on Wednesday afternoon, Mrs McDonald was asked to explain why the meeting did not happen.

Mary Lou McDonald – Edwin Poots meeting
Sinn Fein’s leader Mary Lou McDonald with deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill (Niall Carson/PA)

“As to the meeting with the royals, as you know we’ve met with members of the royal family on many, many occasions and corresponded with them indeed and we will meet with them again,” she said.

“And I think in the totality of our relationships, we need to do everything that we can to bring a sense of calm, to bring a sense of respect and healing to everyone, to every corner of our society, but most particularly for families that have been so badly damaged and badly hurt by the state.”

Pressed if the Ballymurphy shootings and Prince Charles’s link to the Parachute Regiment was a factor, the Sinn Fein leader added: “Quite irrespective of any meeting, there is an obvious link between Prince Charles and the regiment in question.

“But no, we have met before, we will meet again.

“We absolutely recognise that in order to make peace and build peace, we have to meet each other, we have to talk to each other, and demonstrate the kind of respect to each other that we wish to be extended to wider society.

“So I wouldn’t over read anything into one meeting not happening.

“And I can assure you, we’ll meet again, because we have a lot to talk about.

“And there’s a lot of work to be done in Ireland, to get us to a place beyond division and that’s what we go to work for every day.”