Ireland’s newest Ambassador to the UK, Adrian O’Neill, last week became the 16th Irish Ambassador to present his credentials to Her Majesty the Queen.
It was, said Ambassador O’Neill, accompanied by his wife Aisling, at a reception at the Embassy of Ireland to mark the occasion, “yet another impressive indication of the distinguished longevity of the Queen’s reign”.
“Her Majesty was, as ever, very gracious and welcoming and keenly interested in the welfare of Ireland and the state of the relationship between our two countries. She recalled with great affection her State Visit to Ireland in 2011 and conveyed her best wishes to President Higgins and the Irish People,” he said.
“On behalf of the President and the Irish Government I was very happy to reciprocate those warm wishes and to tell Her Majesty that her visit to Ireland in 2011 is still regarded as a very significant milestone in the history of British Irish relations and the words of generosity and gestures of reconciliation associated with that visit had a very powerful impact and have left a very positive legacy.
“President Higgins built further on that legacy during his very successful visit to the UK in 2014 and as Julian mentioned we’ve had successive visits in three successive years by Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, very much building on that legacy.
“I believe so far over the last three years they’ve covered about six counties in the South and I believe the Prince is determined he’s going to visit the other 20 counties over the next few years. We look forward to that. Commenting on the “ever improving UK Ireland relations” and the looming shadow of Brexit, the Ambassador said both countries had come too far to let go of the huge progress made in recent years.
“Her Majesty this morning, I have to say, was tremendously warm and made Aisling and myself and my colleagues feel very much at ease and we had a very relaxed and enjoyable conversation,” said the Ambassador.
He referred to the troubling clouds on the horizon of Brexit and its consequences but said: “All of us in this room rejoice in what has been achieved in recent years and the mutual respect and friendship that characterises relations between our two countries.
“Yes, we may be concerned about some troubling clouds on the horizon that may test our Ireland-UK partnership – and I shall say no more – but in rising to that challenge we take courage from the distance that we have travelled together.
“And on a day that sadly marks the 30th anniversary of the Enniskillen bombing we are fortified by our shared determination to protect the gains of a process that has not only delivered peace in Northern Ireland but has transformed the totality of relations across these islands.
“So let’s celebrate all that has been achieved over recent years, let us guard against any sense of complacency that takes our happy state of bilateral relationships for granted and let us rededicate ourselves to doing all that we can to further protect and promote the wide spectrum of British Irish relations that we all deeply cherish.”
Mr O’Neill pointed out that his mother-in-law, Aisling’s mother, “recently passed away at the great age of 94 and last Wednesday we celebrated the life of an active and independent woman who lived that life to the full and who always put family at the top of her priorities”.
So he and Aisling were especially pleased, he said, that last week’s formal occasion was also an opportunity “for various members of our two families, on both sides of the Irish Sea…siblings, children, cousins, nephews and nieces as well as some personal friends, to join us today.”
He extended particular thanks to the FCO’s Head of Protocol and Vice Marshal of the Diplomatic Corps Julian Evans, who retired this week, for all the kindness and courtesy shown to him in taking up his diplomatic post.
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