Áras an Uachtaráin and Buckingham Palace have announced that President Michael D Higgins, and his wife Mrs. Sabina Higgins, are to be the guests of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II for the first ever State visit to the UK by a President of Ireland on April 8-10 next year.
Mr and Mrs Higgins will stay at Windsor Castle and will pay official visits to the Prime Minister at Downing Street, as well as the leader of the Opposition and a banquet hosted by London’s Lord Mayor.
“The State Visit in April, following on from the very successful visit to Ireland by Queen Elizabeth in 2011, will be a wonderful opportunity to deepen this even further.”
Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Eamon Gilmore T.D. – who would traditionally be expected to accompany the President on such a visit – said: “The visit will be immensely important for the Irish in Britain. It marks a further milestone for the peace process in Northern Ireland. It reflects an economic, social and cultural relationship that has grown steadily closer. In short, it will bring British-Irish relations to a new level.”
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams, whose party colleague the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland Martin McGuinness last year met the Queen, also welcomed the visit and hoped it would give new impetus to the Northern Ireland political process and the Good Friday Agreement.
The long awaited visit is in return for the historic first ever visit to the independent Republic of Ireland by a British monarch on May 17-20 in 2011 at the invitation of then President Mary McAleese.
That hugely symbolic, and well-received, visit was the first since the 1911 tour of Ireland by King George V when Ireland was still part of the United Kingdom.
The 2011 visit was many years in the making and only made possible by the changed politics of Northern Ireland in the years following the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
The strained politics of Britain and Ireland meant that before President Mary Robinson was welcomed to Buckingham Palace by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh in 1993.
Irish heads of state – including the long-serving and highly regarded President Patrick Hillery – had hitherto only set foot in this country, while in office, to change flights at Heathrow.
After President Robinson’s game-changing visit to take tea at the Palace her successor President Mary McAleese – already known to Her Majesty before becoming President – met her in the UK on a number of occasions but also at a commemoration of the WW1 dead in Belgium.
But it was the Queen’s visit to Ireland – in which she visited sites associated with the struggle for Irish independence such as the Garden of Remembrance, the site of the 1920 Bloody Sunday massacre at Croke Park as well as less historically freighted sites including the English Market in Cork and gave a hugely well-received speech in English and Irish – which is universally credited with cementing the strong ties between Ireland and Britain.
In 1995 the Prince of Wales, Prince Charles – whose uncle Lord Mountbatten was a regular visitor to Sligo until he was murdered by the IRA in Mullaghmore in 1979 – visited Ireland and there are plans for his son, Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge and his wife, Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge to be invited to Ireland some time during 2014.
Princess Anne and Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, have been regular visitors to Ireland over the years.
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