President McAleese: Queen’s visit “an extraordinary moment in Irish history”

Ed Jacobs looks forward to the Queen's historic visit to Ireland, reporting on reactions from the great and good and Morrisey.

Queen Elizabeth II

As the Queen today prepares for an historic visit to Ireland, the first by a British monarch since the country became an independent republic, yesterday’s bomb warning in central London, and this morning’s discovery of a bomb on a bus in Maynooth have served to highlight that for a minority, the Queen’s visit remains both a sensitive and sore subject.

With that in mind, political leaders in both the UK and Ireland have sought to demonstrate a united front, seeking to outline their countries’ shared history and ties.

Writing in the Irish Times for example, in a joint article, Irish foreign minister, Eamon Gilmore and foreign secretary, William Hague speak of the visit as a “stepping stone in an even closer future relationship”. They continue:

“British and Irish history is inescapably entwined. For too long, however, relations between our nations were marked by conflict and division, by mistrust and suspicion. But today we are proud to be friends and neighbours, partners and equals.

“The Northern Ireland peace process, founded on the principle of mutual respect, has been critical, both to the partnership we enjoy today and to the process of reconciliation between our peoples.

“That work has been under way for over a quarter of a century. It continues today. Reconciliation is painstaking work. The Belfast Agreement, reached on Good Friday 1998, which included the devolution of power to Northern Ireland and the establishment of frameworks for relations on the island of Ireland and between Britain and Ireland, marked a turning point.

“Last week we saw yet another historic milestone reached quietly as elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly produced a strong mandate from the people of Northern Ireland to continue to consolidate peace and stability.

“This shared history is fundamental to our relationship. We should not gloss over the past. During the visit, in recognition of this shared history, the Queen will pay tribute to the foundation of the Irish State at the Garden of Remembrance and attend a ceremony to commemorate the Irish who died in the first World War. These elements speak to our shared history.”

For Irish President, Mary McAleese, the visit will be an opportunity to look to the future, rather than the past, using an interview with Irish national broadcaster, RTE to argue:

“I think it is an extraordinary moment in Irish history, a phenomenal sign and signal of the success of the peace process and absolutely the right moment for us to welcome onto Irish soil.

“Her Majesty, the Queen, the Head of State of our immediate next door neighbours, the people with whom we are forging a new future, a future very, very different from the past, on very different terms from the past and I think that visit will send the message that we are, both jurisdictions, determined to make the future a much, much better place.”

Not everyone however has been so positive, with the singer, Morrisey using the visit an opportunity to call on the Queen to hand back to Ireland the six counties of the north. The Irish Independent goes on to quote him as saying in a letter to Dublin based music magazine “Hot Press”:

“The very existence of the queen and her now enormous family — all supported by the British taxpayer whether the British taxpayer likes it or not — is entirely against any notion of democracy, and is against freedom of speech.”

But in a clear example of how isolated those seeking to disrupt the visit now are, in a column over the weekend for the Irish Examiner, Sinn Fein leader, Gerry Adams, no fan of the monarchy, argued:

“I want to see a real and meaningfully new and better relationship between the peoples of Ireland and Britain.

“Republicans have been to the forefront in working to bring this about and we will continue to do so.

“The visit by the Queen of England provides a unique opportunity for the British establishment to make it clear that this is its intention also.

“I am for a new relationship between the people of Ireland  and Britain based on equality and mutual respect.

“I hope this visit will hasten that day but much will depend on what the British monarch says. As an Irish citizen who was detained without charge or trial a number of times on a British prison ship, in a prison camp and H Block, as well as a more conventional prison, at ‘Her Majesty’s Pleasure’, I hope so.”

But perhaps concluding thoughts should go to Mary Kenny, author of Crown and Shamrock: Love and Hate Between Ireland and the British Monarchy who has used a piece for the Catholic Herald to conclude of the visit:

“If history is a guide, I think we may hope that it will turn out successfully. Whatever opposition was expressed to British monarchs visiting Ireland in the past usually melted away once the visit actually happened: there is an impulse to welcome – the céad míle fáilte – in Irish tradition, and it nearly always emerges spontaneously.

“It will be a historic, sometimes controversial and certainly extremely interesting event. Whatever else, it will be different from the other 380 state visits Queen Elizabeth has made in the course of her reign, and that, in itself, may carry its own rewards.”

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