What a difference a century makes as Queen to pay visit
Watershed in relations warmly welcomed by most
QUEEN Elizabeth is to make an official visit here in the summer, the first by a British monarch since the foundation of the State.
The announcement was warmly welcomed by all of the political parties last night, except Sinn Fein, which said such a visit was premature.
Already, dissident republican groups are planning street demonstrations and senior garda anti-terrorist officers have started drafting contingency plans for the queen's security.
The announcement by President Mary McAleese ended months of speculation and was described as a watershed in Irish-British relations.
The queen's grandfather, King George V, was the last serving monarch to visit the country 100 years ago when Ireland was part of the UK. He spent six days in Dublin in 1911.
The visit by the queen, who will be accompanied by Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, is not expected to be as long and will probably last for a couple of days near the end of May, according to informed sources last night. It is expected to include one trip outside Dublin.
It is likely that garda leave will be cancelled for a large portion of the force during her stay here.
The visit will result in the biggest VIP protection operation for more than two decades.
Officers are particularly concerned that the visit could be used by terror groups to stage an attack.
Another announcement is due to be made shortly to clarify the details of the visit.
Mrs McAleese said last night that these would be announced jointly by Aras an Uachtarain and Buckingham Palace.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen said it was very important that Ireland and Britain developed relationships in the 21st Century, having overcome the difficulties that existed in the past century.
He said the visit had been spoken about in the context of the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and the need for exchange visits between the heads of state of neighbouring countries.
Mr Cowen added: "She will be a welcome guest and we will ensure that there's a very fruitful exchange when she comes.
"We need to put the relationship between Britain and Ireland on a new footing to explore what we have in common.
"There's a very strong Irish diaspora in Britain and it's important that we develop relations," he added.
Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said he looked forward to this historic visit, which would be warmly welcomed by the vast majority of Irish people.
And Labour leader Eamon Gilmore described it as a "maturing" step in the relationship between the two countries.
"It was inevitable that she would come and visit Ireland," Mr Gilmore said at a meeting of European socialists in Athens.
"She's the head of a neighbouring state and I think this is a big and important step."
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin believed the visit would act as another step in the journey of reconciliation.
"It is an endorsement of the peace strategy, pursued by Irish and British governments over a number of decades and will be a catalyst for further enhancements in north/south and east/west co-operation to the economic, social and cultural benefit of all.
However, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said the visit was premature and would cause offence to many Irish citizens, particularly victims of British rule and those with legacy issues here and in the North.