Gesture of peace - Queen and ex-IRA leader shake hands

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Gesture of peace - Queen and ex-IRA leader shake hands

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In a gesture heavy with symbolism, Queen Elizabeth has shaken hands with the former IRA commander, Martin McGuinness.

The much-anticipated encounter came during a visit by the British monarch to Northern Ireland, where McGuinness is deputy first minister of the devolved government.

The handshake is widely seen as drawing a line under a conflict that cost thousands of lives.

The Queen’s cousin, Lord Mountbatten, was among the victims of the IRA’s bloody campaign to sever links with the UK.

The pair met behind closed doors at an event in Belfast, before shaking hands before the cameras.

The Queen’s two-day visit to Northern Ireland is part of celebrations to mark her diamond jubilee.

Irish Republican splinter groups have angrily condemned the meeting. However, McGuinness of Sinn Fein, has said as deputy first minister he has a responsibility to represent both sides of Northern Ireland’s divided community.