Monday 11 December 2017

Royal couple's 'charm offensive' steers clear of Brexit to highlight strength of our ties

Taoiseach Enda Kenny introduces Prince Charles to staff at Government Buildings Photo: Steve Humphreys
Taoiseach Enda Kenny introduces Prince Charles to staff at Government Buildings Photo: Steve Humphreys
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

The official line from the British side was that it was "absolutely nothing to do with Brexit" - and yet it had absolutely everything to do with Brexit.

As the Duchess of Cornwall inspected chicken coops and bees and planted a tree in the rain at the Airfield Estate in Dublin's Dundrum on the last day of the visit, Prince Charles was doing some heavy lifting of his own - with a private meeting with the Taoiseach.

"Naturally, I expect that we will discuss Brexit and various matters relating to that but also that we will discuss many other issues of mutual interest to both countries," the Taoiseach said, in an advance warning of what might be on the schedule - just in case the prince thought he was off the hook for the hard stuff.

And then there was the timing.

Prince Charles with Minister for Arts Heather Humphreys at The Cross of Sacrifice at Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Prince Charles with Minister for Arts Heather Humphreys at The Cross of Sacrifice at Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin. Photo: Steve Humphreys

The British royals' visit had been set in stone long before it was realised that Michel Barnier, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator would also be in town. A British official had given a slight grimace at the unfortunate crossover.

Barnier's own two-day 'realpolitik' tour of Ireland was arguably far more pertinent given that his focus was not on the pain and divisions of the past but on avoiding the dangerous and painful divisions of the future.

And then there was the presence of Tony Blair, addressing a pro-EU gathering of politicians at Druid's Glen and warning against the "disaster" of a hard border.

The royal couple's picture-perfect strolls through gardens and farmers' markets under implausibly sunny skies looked futile and out of touch when juxtaposed with the sight of Barnier, standing grimly amid the lush green fields of the intangible border, as he wondered how this mess can possibly be sorted out.

Read More: 'Deeply moving visit to Glasnevin the most memorable part of visit'

Three years ago, the couple made their emotional and important visit to Mullaghmore, Co Sligo, where, in August 1979, the IRA had blown up the fishing boat of Lord Mountbatten, Charles's beloved great uncle.

The explosion had also killed Doreen Brabourne (83), the mother-in-law of Mountbatten's daughter, who died a day later; Nicholas Knatchbull, the earl's grandson, who was 14; and his friend Paul Maxwell, a 15-year-old local boy from Killynure, Enniskillen, who had worked on preparing the royal boat for fishing.

"At the time, I could not imagine how we would come to terms with the anguish of such a deep loss since, for me, Lord Mountbatten represented the grandfather I never had," Charles said at that time.

The Duchess of Cornwall meets beekeeper Brian O’Toole during a visit to Airfield Farm in Dundrum, Dublin. Photo: Damien Eagers
The Duchess of Cornwall meets beekeeper Brian O’Toole during a visit to Airfield Farm in Dundrum, Dublin. Photo: Damien Eagers

In acknowledging our mutual pain, there was a sense then that Ireland and the UK were ready to move on together.

Their second visit last summer further reinforced our friendship.

By this, their third visit, all had changed. The past - while still important - simply seemed less of a priority.

With each speech, we waited for the word 'Brexit' to pass the lips of the prince but he was unable to step beyond protocol. Nevertheless, it was clear he has opinions which could prove crucial in the future.

During the meal at Arás an Uachtaráin, he spoke of the need to maintain our cultural and economic relationship, adding: "I say this fully aware of the current challenges that both of our countries face."

"So, whatever happens, I hope you can be confident that there will be no diminishing of the regard the United Kingdom has for the Republic of Ireland," he said.

At the British Ambassador's residence in Glencairn, he talked of the "extraordinary contribution" made by the Irish in the UK.

"In these challenging times, it is more important than ever we strengthen the connections between us and forge new ones," he said.

The British press were calling the visit a "Brexit charm offensive".

But a British embassy official insisted it was "nothing at all to do with Brexit. It was non-political."

However, in times like these, can anything be said to be 'non-political'? Especially the friendship of a future king who has developed a taste for Ireland in May?

Irish Independent

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