Monday 16 December 2019

Higgins opens new chapter in Anglo-Irish relations with historic Parliament speech

* President addresses Houses of Parliament n Hails deep and enduring Anglo-Irish relationship

President Higgins is applauded by his wife Sabina Coyne and John Bercow following his speech at the Houses of Parliament in London
President Higgins is applauded by his wife Sabina Coyne and John Bercow following his speech at the Houses of Parliament in London

Niall O'Connor Westminster

PRESIDENT Michael D Higgins opened a new chapter in Anglo-Irish relations by paying tribute to the closeness and warmth between Britain and Ireland, which "once seemed unachievable".

Addressing the Houses of Parliament in London, Mr Higgins recognised the deep difficulties that once existed between both nations and hailed the courage and conviction displayed by some of Ireland's political giants, such as Constance Markievicz and Daniel O'Connell.

But it was Mr Higgins's recognition of the progress made between Ireland and Britain that prompted a standing ovation.

Quoting the Irish MP Stephen Gwynn, who stated that the Irish and British used to "look at each other with doubtful eyes", Mr Higgins said: "We acknowledge that past but, even more, we wholeheartedly welcome the considerable achievement of today's reality – the mutual respect, friendship and co-operation which exists between our two countries."

Referring to the passage of the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829 secured by "our great Irish parliamentarian" Daniel O'Connell, the President said: "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.

"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.

The President spoke of the importance of respecting our different but also "deeply interwoven narratives", which have helped create a bright future.

He 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".

"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 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," Mr Higgins said.

Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow MP told Mr Higgins that he "could not be more welcome here than you are".

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

"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."

The Westminster event was attended by a number of 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.

Irish Independent

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