Prince Charles shook hands for the first time with Irish republican leader Gerry Adams Tuesday in Galway, Ireland — a historic meeting that took place 36 years after the Irish Republican Army murdered his great-uncle Lord Mountbatten.
Although this is Charles’s third official visit to Ireland since the 1994 ceasefire that eventually led to lasting calm on the island, it is the first time he is meeting with leaders of the Sinn Féin party, which acted as the political counterpart to the Irish Republican Army during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
Adams, the Sinn Féin president, has always denied any involvement with the IRA but former members of the paramilitary group have said he was deeply involved with the republican group that carried out bombings and killings in the decades before it ended its armed resistance.
Charles and Adams met at a reception held at reception at the National University of Ireland, shaking hands for more than 10 seconds a crowd watched and dozens of camera flashes lit up the exchange. The two later had a private meeting for about 15 minutes that included Martin McGuinness, a former IRA commander and a senior member of Sinn Féin.
“We did discuss the need for the entire process to move forward, particularly in regard to those who have suffered, those who have been bereaved,” Adams said afterward,according to the BBC.
“Both he and we expressed our regret for what happened from 1968 onwards.”
The IRA killed Lord Mountbatten in a bomb attack on his boat in 1979 at Mullaghmore, a fishing village in the northwest of Ireland near the border of Northern Ireland.
Adams, then the vice-president of Sinn Féin, said Mountbatten’s death was “unfortunate” but seemingly justified the killing by saying it was comparable to “what Mountbatten had been doing all his life to other people.”
“He knew the danger involved in coming to this country. In my opinion, the IRA achieved its objective: people started paying attention to what was happening in Ireland,” Adams had said in 1979.
Northern Ireland has been largely peaceful since a 1998 Good Friday Agreement that ended three decades of violence between republicans and unionists — often simplified as a struggle between Catholics favouring unification with the Republic of Ireland and Protestants who want to remain loyal to the British Crown.