Cherie Blair embraces former IRA commander Martin McGuinness at funeral of Tony Benn
- Deputy First Minister attended with Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams
- Mr Adams was also at funeral and called Tony Benn 'a friend of Ireland'
- Mrs Blair's husband once admitted he liked both 'more than I should have'
- The Queen famously shook Mr McGuinness' hand two years ago and is set to invite him to state dinner at Windsor
The human rights QC smiled and embraced Northern Ireland's deputy First Minister as they filed out of St Margaret's Church, Westminster this afternoon.
Public figures had been paying their last respects to Mr Benn, who served as a Labour MP for more than 50 years and died two weeks ago at 88.
Mr McGuinness attended the service with Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, who Tony Blair admitted in his memoirs he liked 'more than I should have'.
Mrs Blair and her husband got to know Mr McGuinness and Mr Adams during the peace process.
'Whether you like them or not, and no matter how strongly you disapprove of their past actions, they had courage in abundance,' Mr Blair wrote when he left power.
Cherie Blair's warmth towards the Northern Irish politician came two years after the Queen shook his hand.
The momentous act came 33 years after her cousin, Lord Mountbatten of Burma, was murdered by an IRA bomb as he holidayed with his family.
The decision to shake hands with a former IRA commander was an astonishing act of forgiveness by the 86-year-old monarch who adored her ‘Uncle Dickie’.
Her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, a nephew of Lord Mountbatten, also offered his hand even though Philip was exceptionally close to his uncle and took news of his murder in 1979 hard.
It also emerged that he may be travelling to Windsor Castle next month for a state dinner hosted by Her Majesty.
Mr McGuinness admitted his IRA past to the Saville Inquiry in 1998, but has always insisted he never killed anyone – claims that have been repeatedly questioned by his critics.
He joined the Provisional IRA as a teenager and quickly rose up the ranks. By 1971, aged 21, he was second in command of the IRA in Derry.
He held that position at the time of Bloody Sunday, when 14 civil rights protesters were killed by British paratroopers in the city.
During the Saville Inquiry into the events of that day, Paddy Ward claimed McGuinness had personally handed him bomb parts, an allegation McGuinness claimed was 'fantasy'.
In 1973, he was convicted by Ireland's Special Criminal Court, after being caught with a car loaded with explosives and ammunition. He refused to recognise the court, and was sentenced to six months imprisonment.
However, he has never denied his role in the IRA, saying in September last year: ‘I didn’t say I never fired a gun - I was in the IRA. There were battles on the streets of Derry.'
He claims he left the Provisionals in 1974 to pursue a career in politics - five years before the IRA assassinated Lord Mountbatten.