Ireland's president has hailed plans for an historic handshake between the Queen and Martin McGuinness.

President Michael D Higgins will also attend the event where the long awaited encounter is set to take place in Belfast next Wednesday.

The charity Co-operation Ireland is hosting a celebration of culture on the island of Ireland in Belfast's Lyric Theatre and the venue will provide the stage for the first meeting between Sinn Fein and the Queen.

President Higgins, who is visiting Irish communities in Britain, said: "I accepted the invitation on the basis that it would be an inclusive occasion."

He said he hoped the meeting would help foster reconciliation in Northern Ireland.

The historic handshake is expected to take place in private before the VIP guests join others at the event. The meeting is being seen as a major milestone in efforts to normalise relations between nationalists and unionists.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams confirmed on Friday that his party's ruling executive had agreed to accept the invitation issued to Martin McGuinness, who shares the Office of First Minister and deputy First Minister at Stormont with unionist leader Peter Robinson.

Mr Adams said: "This will understandably cause difficulties for some republicans and nationalists, especially for those folks who suffered at the hands of British forces."

But he added: "We're doing it because it's the right thing to do, despite the fact that it will cause difficulties for our own folk. But it's good for Ireland. It's good for this process we're trying to develop. It's the right time and the right reason."

The meeting will be the high point of a two-day Diamond Jubilee trip to Northern Ireland by the Queen, who is also set to visit Enniskillen on Tuesday when her itinerary begins.