The Queen leaves a legacy of someone who sought to build relations between different identities in Northern Ireland, Michelle O’Neill has said.
The Sinn Fein vice president hugged the Lord Lieutenant of Belfast Dame Fionnuala Jay-O’Boyle after the pair signed books of condolence at the City Hall on Friday.
Tributes have continued to pour in from across Northern Ireland following the death of the Queen, including a 96-round royal gun salute held at Hillsborough Castle.
It has also been announced that MLAs will return to Stormont on Monday to pay their tributes
I think there is no doubt that she leaves a legacy of someone who reached out the hand of friendship, someone who advanced peace and reconciliation, someone who sought to build relations with those of an Irish and those of a British identity
Michelle O'Neill, Sinn Fein
Ms O’Neill said: “First and foremost, my thoughts are very much with (the Queen’s) family, with her children, with her grandchildren, with that wider family circle.
“I am sure they mourn her loss very, very deeply.
“I also want to specifically acknowledge the hurt and the grief of those in the unionist community here, our neighbours who will feel her loss and miss her leadership over the past 70 years.
“I think there is no doubt that she leaves a legacy of someone who reached out the hand of friendship, someone who advanced peace and reconciliation, someone who sought to build relations with those of an Irish and those of a British identity.
“I think that was sterling work and something she will be very much remembered for here on this island.”
Books of condolence were being opened across Northern Ireland including at Londonderry’s Guildhall, Antrim Castle Gardens, Ballyclare War Memorial Park, Mossley Mill Civic Square, Bangor Town Hall, the Arts Centre, Newtownards, Ballymoney Town Hall, Coleraine Town Hall and the Roe Valley Arts and Cultural Centre in Limavady.
Stormont Speaker Alex Maskey wrote to MLAs to say the death of the Queen was recognised as an “historic global event”.
He continued: “It is important that Assembly members should meet in the Assembly chamber at the earliest opportunity to express their condolences in recognition of a long life given to public service.
“I will gather members in the Assembly Chamber at 12.30pm on Monday September 12 for tributes to be paid.
“Following the tributes, and taking account of what is happening in other legislatures, I will then open a book of condolences for Assembly Members and building users to sign in the Great Hall.”
Meanwhile, the sound of guns boomed across the small Co Down village of Hillsborough as reservists from the 206 Battery 105 Regiment Royal Artillery fired the 96-round salute from cannons – each round marking a year of the Queen’s life.
In attendance was Lord Caine, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and Steve Baker, Minister of State for Northern Ireland.
As the gun salute finished after 12 minutes, there was a moment of silence before applause broke out from the large crowd gathered outside the castle.
Many people, young and old, had stood outside the gates listening to the sound of the cannons with their heads bowed.
With the UK entering a period of official mourning, much of the focus in Northern Ireland will be on the Co Down village. It hosts Northern Ireland’s royal residence, which will be the centre of ceremonial activities.
A major security operation is under way in the village, with traffic restricted ahead of what is expected to be a large number of visitors paying tribute over the coming days.
The public will be welcome to pay their respects to HM Queen Elizabeth II at Hillsborough Castle during the period of official mourning. There are currently structural preparations being put in place and Hillsborough Castle will remain closed to the public until tomorrow.
— Northern Ireland Office (@NIOgov) September 9, 2022
Royal Hillsborough last year became the first place in Northern Ireland to be granted royal status.
Hundreds of floral tributes have been left at the gates of the castle, with people travelling from across Northern Ireland to pay their respects.
Among those who paid tribute at the castle was Olympic gold medallist Dame Mary Peters.
Karen Irwin also travelled to Hillsborough with her family from Fivemiletown.
She said: “The Queen means an awful lot to us, she really was the epitome of service to her country.
“We feel very sad, it really is the end of an era, it is difficult to put into words.”
The Northern Ireland Assembly is observing the period of national mourning following the death of Her Majesty The Queen. As a mark of respect, all planned public events have been cancelled and there will be no public access to Parliament Buildings until further notice.
— Northern Ireland Assembly (@niassembly) September 9, 2022
In Belfast, people were gathering at a mural of the Queen on the Shankill Road to leave floral tributes and pay their respects.
On Friday evening hundreds of people gathered on the Shankill to listen to bands play in tribute to the late monarch.
Meanwhile, events were being cancelled across Northern Ireland in tribute to the Queen.
A tweet from the Northern Ireland Assembly also said there would be no access to Parliament Buildings at Stormont until further notice.
The NI International Air Show, which was due to take place in Portrush this weekend, has been cancelled as a mark of respect and a number of sporting events have also been postponed.
Stormont speaker Alex Maskey said earlier that he was liaising with officials to ensure that the Stormont Assembly was able to pay tribute.