Arrests made to protect Queen, reveals Callinan
IRA members taken into custody in advance over 'very real' threat to British monarch's life
Published 06/04/2014 | 02:30
FORMER Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan has revealed how there were "very significant arrests" made to protect Queen Elizabeth prior to her Irish State visit.
In a new RTE documentary, The Insiders, the recently resigned Garda chief revealed there was a very real threat to the Queen's life from the IRA before she flew into the country on May 17 last year under the protection of the largest security operation in the history of the State.
The programme details how there was a question over whether her plane was going to touch down in Ireland even when it was in the air, due to a credible security alert which had David Cameron scrambling his ministers to a situation room in Downing Street.
Mr Callinan said in the documentary that the IRA posed a very real danger to the British monarch during her historic Irish visit.
"The threat is real and substantial in terms of the IRA, who, it was very clear, were out to, if they could, inflict fatal damage. That's the naked reality," he said.
"We have a number of very active people here that we have to monitor very, very closely and that's what we did. We put enormous resources into ensuring that we knew what they were up to and we knew their movements. Very credible intelligence was available to us very early on that led to very significant arrests."
He also pointed out that members of the gardai put themselves in danger to protect the monarch after she laid a wreath at the Garden of Remembrance.
"It is the case of course that some of our members were placed in very great danger. On one of the locations up in Dorset Street, later on when we doing a sweep of the area, we found a very viable improvised explosive device."
The security operation over the period of the visits of Queen Elizabeth and US President Barack Obama shortly afterwards involved in excess of 8,000 gardai from all over the country.
On the eve of President Higgins's State visit to Britain this week, the documentary gives a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes at Queen Elizabeth II's visit in 2011.
Kathleen White, Head of Protocol at the Department of Foreign Affairs, who was then responsible for the smooth running of the visit, told how the Queen practised her famous Irish greeting before she left for Dublin Castle to make her historic speech.
She said: "I was waiting in the front hall of Farmleigh for the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh to come down and depart for Dublin Castle and her deputy private secretary approached me while I was waiting in the hallway and asked if I would go upstairs because the Queen wanted to repeat the opening words of her speech.
"I was a little bit surprised but happy to do as I was asked. The Queen was ready to go and completely dressed and she repeated the words of the opening of her speech. She did it beautifully. I told her it was perfect. It is quite a challenge for someone who hasn't grown up in the Irish school system to get their tongues around the Irish language."
Her simple greeting, "A Uachtarain agus a chairde," was the opening gambit in the speech which won over the nation. Ms White told how she felt the Queen was delighted to be on Irish soil from the minute she greeted her on the plane at Baldonnell.
She said: "Normally when you go on the plane at the start of a State visit, your function as a chief of protocol is to very briefly to welcome the Head of State. But on this occasion I had the impression that the Queen was just very happy to be here, to have arrived, finally to be starting out on a visit she had looked forward to for a very long time."
She told how the palace paid such extraordinary attention to the detail of the historic visit that the Queen's dresser was sent on advance trips to check out the colour schemes of the key locations.
Bobby McDonagh, Irish ambassador to Britain in 2011, said the best-known Irish personalities across the water had helped pave the way for the visit.
He said: "The Irish community in Britain – it used to be said they nursed the sick and built the roads and taught the children. These days, with a little bit of exaggeration, you could say they run the financial services industry, write the plays and present the television programmes.
"The contribution they made in developing good relations with their British neighbours and friends was a very important element over many years in setting the scenes of the Queen's visit to Ireland.
"There are probably no two countries as known for their rivalry and even hostility over the centuries than Britain and Ireland and today they are the closest of friends – and the Queen's visit to Ireland, and the return visit which is in prospect, very much set the seal on that friendship."
'The Insiders' will be shown on RTE One on Monday, April 7, at 8.30pm