Saturday 25 November 2017

Queen to make historic visit

Taoiseach extends 2011 invitation at meeting with Cameron

Lise Hand in London

Britain's Queen Elizabeth is expected to visit the Republic before the end of next year -- the first visit by a British monarch since independence.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen yesterday said he had issued an invitation for a state visit by Queen Elizabeth.

Speaking after his first formal meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron in London, he said that there were "no obstacles" in the way of a visit by the monarch, and he hoped it would take place before the end of President Mary McAleese's term of office, which finishes in November 2011.

Citing the completion of the peace process, from the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, and the full devolution of policing and justice following the Hillsborough talks, Mr Cowen acknowledged a "transformation of the relationship" between the two countries.

"We should reflect on the very good relations between our peoples on the islands of Ireland and Britain and I think also that normal courtesies involving the exchange of visits by heads of state is something that can and should happen," the Taoiseach said.

Queen Elizabeth and Mrs McAleese have met several times over the past five years, although never amid the full formality of a state visit.

Mr Cowen issued the initial invitation during the 45-minute meeting at 10 Downing Street with Mr Cameron yesterday afternoon, although a formal invitation has yet to be extended.

"Yes, I raised the issue with him, and I've given an indication that in my opinion no obstacle now exists against the very positive background in which we now operate for those courtesies of friendly neighbouring states exchanging visits through heads of state," he said.

Transformation

An Irish government source said that the invitation had been "well-received" by the new British prime minister, who is distantly related to the royal family -- Mr Cameron is a fifth cousin twice removed of the queen.

There often have been suggestions over the years that Queen Elizabeth would visit the Republic. The possibility of a state visit was first mooted by the queen's late sister Princess Margaret as far back as 1965 when she and her husband Lord Snowdon were on holiday in Ireland.

But the violence in the North during the 1970s and 1980s made such a visit impossible, particularly after the IRA murdered the queen's uncle Lord Mountbatten in Co Sligo in 1979.

However, the Taoiseach insisted yesterday that the "transformation of the relationship" between the two countries now cleared the way for the first visit to the Republic by a British monarch in almost a hundred years -- 2011 marks the centenary of the last such visit by the queen's grandfather, King George V.

Sinn Fein Dail leader Caoimhghin O Caolain described as "totally unacceptable" Mr Cowen's approval of a visit to Ireland by the queen, "commander-in-chief of the British army", while refusing in the Dail to raise the issue of bomb-attacks collusion with the British prime minister.

He said the Taoiseach refused to give a commitment to raise with Mr Cameron the all-party Dail motion on collusion passed nearly two years ago in July, 2008.

"This motion called on the British government to give to an international judicial figure all files in its possession relating to the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of May 1974, in which 33 people died, and other acts of collusion in the 26 counties during the conflict," he said.

Irish Independent

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