THERE is a paper cake stand currently on sale in one of the major British supermarkets, which is purposed for coronation street parties. A message on it says 'Let Them Eat Cake'. This is either an indication of immense subversion or inane stupidity.

More cynically, it could also be an incredibly subversive move which capitalises on inane stupidity. Two things can be true at once and seemingly irreconcilable things can co-exist. Although coronation cakestands inciting the guillotine is extreme craic!

Michelle O’Neill and Alex Maskey attending the coronation of Charles Windsor in Westminster Abbey is something which twenty years ago would have been a wildly incongruous suggestion. But when it was announced last week, few were surprised. But that does not mean it should be taken for granted, or minimised. Quite the opposite.

Michelle O’Neill’s statement bears scrutiny. It contains fundamental messages about the position of First Minister in a devolved settlement, efforts of building peace 25 years after the peace agreement and, probably most importantly, messages about how British citizens might expect to be treated in a new Republic of Ireland. And all of those messages were about reaching out a hand of friendship and respect.

In a statement of confidence, it acknowledges republicanism far less than it acknowledges unionism. And that is important. Going by the past two weeks’ opinion polls, if there was a new 32 county Republic Sinn Féin would hold an overall majority. Before that, if, as many expect, a way is found to resurrect Stormont after the local elections, Sinn Féin is on course to hold the position of First Minister and Taoiseach in a matter of 24 months or less. The DUP has proven itself to be entirely incapable of dealing with the realpolitik of this new Ireland. But the people who vote for them, and especially the unionists and British citizens who have left them and are now voting for Alliance or others, see the direction of travel. Michelle O’Neill’s statement was for them.

Republicans, generally, were pretty relaxed in reaction. Martin McGuinness had done the hard miles before his passing. Does that mean that this is easy, or has not caused significant and meaningful debate? No, it does not. And this is where some frustration lies. It would be lovely if unionism in its political form might acknowledge or reciprocate what are challenging, difficult and not always reconcilable moves of generosity. That they do not leaves a sour note.

Sinn Féin would still get all of the votes coming their way if Michelle and Alex stayed home on Saturday. This is challenging and not a vote winner. But they are doing it because they want to do the right thing for the British citizens on this island. Monarchy is irreconcilable with republicanism, building trust and safety is, however, entirely reconcilable.

I won’t be one of those watching on Saturday. But I genuinely want to be a part of a reconciled new Republic, and respect is part of safety. Making significant moves for the right reasons will always be vindicated by time. In this case, the time is likely to be sooner than we all realise. Ireland is not staying still and a new Ireland is being formed right now. In ten years’ time we will be glad of the confidence in friendships and safety we have built, however challenging.