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President hopes visit will strengthen ties with UK

PRESIDENT Michael D Higgins hopes that his historic state visit to Britain will lead to people from both countries sharing experiences in "evermore numbers".

Speaking before he set off to become the first Irish head of state to pay an official state visit to the UK, the President outlined his thoughts on the trip.

"My hope for the visit is that at the end of it all people will, in evermore numbers, come to share each other's experiences, history and present circumstances and culture," he said.

"And do so in ever greater numbers, quite naturally, I think that's exciting," he added.

The President spoke of the strong relationship between Ireland and Britain and hailed the symbolic significance of the visit. "I think it is very important in many different ways; it's important to be able to engage in the fullest complex sense with our shared past history."

He added: "I certainly think that for the Irish community in Britain, there is never only one story that you could say is a dominant pattern. Because the Irish experience has differed through different generations and in different circumstances, it's particularly important for them."

As the President departs for any official state visit, there is often a farewell with military honours at the airport.

But to mark the significance of the visit to Britain, the ceremony was held yesterday at Aras an Uachtarain.

The army band was present and played the Presidential Salute as President Higgins met with the official farewell party.

The President said that Ireland had shared experience with Britain in areas such as the economy, sport, culture and "matters equine".

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Mr Higgins said that the visit was "packed full of opportunities" and he was looking forward to his visit to the Irish community in Coventry.

He added that he felt "honoured" by the invitation to return the historic visit made to Ireland by the queen in 2011.

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