A remarkable event of a very personal nature will take place this week when a former commander of the Irish Republican Army, in other words a former terrorist, will shake hands in Belfast with Queen Elizabeth II, who had a cousin killed by an IRA attack.
The former IRA commander, Martin McGuinness, is now Northern Ireland's deputy first minister. Since the peace accord of 1998, ending IRA's 30-year campaign of commando attacks and bombings intended to end British rule, Mr. McGuinness has had a successful political career. Objectives that once had only a violent outlet now have a democratic one.
It is an extraordinary step for Mr. McGuinness to meet with the queen of the nation that he hopes Northern Ireland will one day gain full independence from - through political means. As for Queen Elizabeth, it continues her gracious approach to trying to heal wounds from the bitter Northern Ireland conflict that raged for much of her 60-year reign. The queen has made numerous conciliatory comments, noting remorse for Britain's often violent responses to the nationalist movement. Queen Elizabeth has taken this high road though her own cousin, Lord Mountbatten, a British naval commander during World War II, died from an IRA bomb while sailing near his holiday home in County Sligo, Ireland in 1979.
It is appropriate for a leader of Sinn Fein, the political arm that remained from the IRA after that group disbanded and disarmed, to return the queen's assuasive gestures.
"This is a very significant initiative by us. We don't have to do it. We are doing it despite the fact that it will cause difficulties for some of our own folk, but we think it's good for Ireland," said Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams. Along with Mr. McGuinness, Mr. Adams played a major role in convincing fellow Catholic nationalists to end decades of internal violence and accept a role in a power-sharing government alongside former Protestant enemies.
This outcome gives hope that other seemingly intractable religious and political enemies elsewhere in the world can one day find a path to peace and cooperation.