Thursday 23 October 2014

President Higgins: 'We can now look at each other through trusting eyes of mutual respect'

In a momentous address - the first of its kind by an Irish Head of State - Mr Higgins went as far back as Strongbow to discuss the difficulties between both nations.

Niall O'Connor, Political Correspondent, In Westminster

Published 08/04/2014 | 16:37

President Higgins presented a new coat to the Irish Guards wolfhound mascot
President Higgins presented a new coat to the Irish Guards wolfhound mascot
President Higgins inspects a guard of honour at Windsor Castle
President Higgins inspects a guard of honour at Windsor Castle
President Higgins shakes hands with the Duchess of Cornwall at the Irish Embassy in London
President Higgins shakes hands with the Duchess of Cornwall at the Irish Embassy in London

President Michael D Higgins received a standing ovation after delivering a deeply personal speech in front of the Houses of Parliament in Westminster.

Mr Higgins told a packed hall that Britain and Ireland have now achieved a closeness and warmth that "once seemed unachievable".

In a momentous address - the first of its kind by an Irish Head of State - Mr Higgins went as far back as Strongbow to discuss the difficulties between both nations.

But he heralded the huge cooperation over the past number of years which he said has led to a "deep and enduring friendship".

ROYAL Irela_56.jpg
President Higgins presented a new coat to the Irish Guards wolfhound mascot

Mr Higgins spoke of Constance Markiewicz as being the first woman to be elected to Westminster on behalf of the Irish People, though she chose to take her seat in Dáil Éireann instead.

While 90 years earlier, the passage of the Cathlic Emancipation Act of 1829 was secured by our great Irish parliamentarian Daniel O'Connell, the President told MPs.

"While O’Connell may not have achieved that ambition during his own lifetime, it was such an idealism that served to guide and influence, so many years later, the achievement of the momentous Good Friday Agreement of 1998," he said during his first keynote speech of the four day State visit.

"That achievement was founded on the cornerstones of equality, justice and democratic partnership, and was a key milestone on the road to today’s warm, deep and enduring Irish-British friendship," he added.

PresWindsorVisitFF11.jpg
President Higgins with Queen Elizabeth viewing a display in Windsor Castle

The one time fraught relationship between both nations was raised by Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow MP who said both nations previously had a "mutual suspicion" of each other.

Mr Bercow said that the past eight centuries have often been "fraught with troubles", adding that today's event "would have been very difficult to imagine a few decades ago".

"It is a telling testament to the extraordinary transformation of the relationship between and within these islands in our life time, that our children, both in the United Kingdom and in Ireland, would be so surprised about the enormity of this moment," Mr Bercow said.

"We have in one sense shared so much history, that in another been so separated by it. The past is a powerful force. But we should not allow ourselves to become the prisoners of it," he added.

N-IRELAND-VISIT_2.jpg
President Higgins is greeted by Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip outside Windsor Castle

The Westminster event was attended by a number of high profile British and Irish politicians, including Prime Minister David Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, UK Labour leader Ed Miliband, Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore.

HNVisit 14_2.jpg
President Higgins alongside Queen Elizabeth in the royal carriage

Several Sinn Fein MPs - who refuse to sit in the House of Commons - were also in attendance.

A spokesperson for Sinn Fein told independent.ie that the MPs recognised the significance of the occasion.

The President referred to the struggle in Northern Ireland, adding that there still exists a "road to be travelled" before peace can be made "permanent and constructive"

Royal1.jpg
President Higgins shakes hands with Prince Charles at the Irish Embassy in London

"Our two countries can take immense pride in the progress of the cause of peace in Northern Ireland. There is of course still a road to be travelled – the road of a lasting and creative reconciliation – and our two Governments have a shared responsibility to encourage and support those who need to complete the journey of making peace permanent and constructive," he said.

Earlier, the President attended separate events at the Irish embassy and Windsor Castle, where he was greeted by the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall, Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh.

He later laid a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier at Westminster Abbey.

Tonight, the President and his wife Sabina will attend a State banquet at Windsor Castle.

 Further Reading

- A treasure trail: President given guided tour of Windsor by Queen 

- In pictures: President Michael D Higgins' State Visit to Britain

- President Higgins meets Queen Elizabeth at Windsor Castle 

- First Lady Sabina Higgins wears 100% Irish during historic visit

- Queen Elizabeth rolls out red carpet for historic state visit

- Remembering my great-grandfather and the Irish heroes lost to history

- Eimear's dress rehearsal ahead of big performance

- President hopes visit will strengthen ties with UK

-

- Ian O’Doherty: Michael D – for when platitudes are just what we need

- Editorial: Visit will help to heal the wounds of history

Read More

Editors Choice

Also in this section