THE Prince of Wales has expressed regret over lives lost in Northern Ireland’s Troubles, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams has said.
Mr Adams, one of the most prominent and controversial republican figures of the last 50 years, said he spoke to Charles in a private meeting about the 1979 IRA bombing in which his great-uncle Lord Mountbatten was murdered.
“Both he and we expressed our regret for what happened from 1968 onwards,” Mr Adams said.
“We were of a common mind and the fact that the meeting took place, it obviously was a big thing for him to do and a big thing for us to do.”
The meeting took place at National University of Ireland Galway after the Sinn Fein chief and the Prince shook hands during a reception.
They sat down in a private room for 10 minutes in an engagement attended by the party’s Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and the British ambassador to Ireland Dominick Chilcott.
We were of a common mind and the fact that the meeting took place, it obviously was a big thing for him to do and a big thing for us to do.Gerry Adams
Lord Mountbatten, the 79-year-old cousin of the Queen, was targeted by the IRA as he set off with family and a local teenager to gather lobster pots and fish for shrimp 600 yards from the harbour of the normally peaceful fishing village of Mullaghmore, Co Sligo.
Lord Mountbatten was murdered along with Lady Doreen Brabourne, the 83-year-old mother-in-law of the earl’s daughter, his 14-year-old grandson Nicholas Knatchbull, and 14-year-old Paul Maxwell, from Killynure, Enniskillen.
Mr Adams said the assassination in Mullaghmore was touched upon, along with atrocities committed elsewhere during the Troubles.
“We spoke about his loss and also the loss suffered by the Maxwell family, their son Paul, up in Mullaghmore,” Mr Adams said.
Charles agreed to the meeting after a request by the Sinn Fein president in a move which would have been unthinkable until a few years ago and sets the tone for the four-day visit.
Mr Adams said the Prince felt able to empathise with other people who had suffered during the 40 years of violence on the island of Ireland.
“I think it was good that he’s come here and I think it’s good that he has come to Mullaghmore, and I think it’s good that we met,” he said.
“We did discuss the need for the entire process to move forward, particularly in terms of people who’ve suffered, families who’ve been bereaved. The need to heal, to heal relations between the people of these islands and on this island.
“He reflected on the fact that his suffering has given him an affinity and understanding with other people.”
It is understood royal sources are looking on the meeting as productive and conciliatory and it is also considered that due credit is being given to the Queen for her efforts in visiting Ireland in 2011.
As Charles and Mr Adams met in full public view in a packed hall as the Prince toured the university in the first engagement of his packed agenda, the two men smiled at each other, shook hands for several seconds and exchanged words.
The meeting comes on the eve of Charles’s emotional walkabout in the seaside village where the Mountbatten assassination occurred.
“Today’s meeting with Prince Charles is a significant symbolic and practical step forward in the process of healing and reconciliation arising from the peace process,” said Mr Adams.
“He and his family were hurt and suffered great loss by the actions of Irish republicans. I am very conscious of this and of the sad loss of the Maxwell family whose son Paul was killed at Mullaghmore and I thank all involved, including Charles, for their forbearance.”
Mr Adams is the most senior republican to meet the Prince and it comes after his party colleague Martin McGuinness, the Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister and former IRA commander, shook hands with Charles at a state banquet in Windsor Castle last year and met the Queen in 2012.
But the handshake with Mr Adams will chime with the theme of peace and reconciliation at the prayer gathering in St Columba’s Church, Drumcliffe, Co Sligo tomorrow, a few miles from Mullaghmore.
It is also being looked upon as the next phase in ever-deepening relations, friendships and bonds between the UK and Ireland.
Mr Adams added: “I said ‘cead mile failte aris’ (welcome back). I told him in Irish and English that it was good he was back in Ireland.”
The Sinn Fein leader, who gave up his Westminster seat for West Belfast to stand for the Irish parliament in 2011, was challenged following the meeting on allegations he has always denied that he was in the IRA.
“I am completely honest in that,” Mr Adams said when pressed by media.
“Why don’t we have a good day of it, my friend. Obviously the past has to be dealt with and we are up for doing that.”
Charles is joined over the four days by the Duchess of Cornwall.
It will be the royal couple’s first official engagement in Ireland but not the first time in the country for either of them as both have visited many times in a personal capacity, including the Prince’s trips to the Duke of Devonshire’s Lismore Castle in Co Cork.
Charles was last in the Republic on formal business in 2002 and had previously been in the country in 1995.
At the opening engagement the royal couple were welcomed by traditional Irish dancers and enjoyed a tour of Irish crafts and fare and also saw first-hand some of the work of the university in medical research and the arts.
Charles told a crowd of more than 100 invited guests, dignitaries and politicians that it was a “very great pleasure” to be in Galway.
He started his remarks with “a dhaoine uaisle”, the Irish equivalent of “ladies and gentlemen”.
The Prince said he “may be a little too old to learn the steps of the Irish dancing routine” before adding that “having been an admirer of Fred Astaire ever since I can remember, it would be marvellous if I could”.
He said: “Having first had the privilege of coming to Ireland in 1995 and then again in 2002, each time I have been so overwhelmed and so deeply touched by the extraordinary kindness, the welcome and indeed the fun of being in Ireland.
“Apart from anything else, the chance of plenty of good jokes and laughter make the whole difference to life.”