Irish Guards to line up for duty at royal wedding
Irish rugby captain Brian O'Driscoll may have sent a "sorry, I'm busy" message to the Queen of England, but the list of invitees to the royal wedding does include some Irish faces.
They include four members of the Irish guards who have just returned from a six-month tour of duty in Helmand province in Afghanistan, including west of Ireland-born soldier Captain Max Dooher, who trained at the Sandhurst Military Academy with Prince William.
Capt Dooher, 28, was hand-picked to represent 1st Battalion Irish Guards, of which the prince is Colonel, because he was on the same commissioning course as the prince.
While 1,353 servicemen will be on royal-wedding duty in London on the day, just eight from each branch of the services have been given the privilege of lining the entrance to the abbey, including the four Irish Guards.
Capt Dooher said: "I was at the patrol base in the Upper Gereshk Valley when I got the call from my commanding officer telling me I would be on duty at Westminster Abbey on the day of the wedding. To be honest, I didn't really know what a pathliner was, but the CO said 'you'd better be in good order on the day, a lot of people are going to see you'.
"What I'll be doing next week is about as far away as you can get from what we were doing in Afghanistan. We were carrying out ground-holding duties, mounting patrols and coming under fire regularly, and living in a small compound where we were flea-bitten with only enough water to shave once a week.
" We weren't able to shower for up to a month at a time. The only common thread is maintaining the same standards. The two things are worlds apart."
The Archbishop of Armagh Cardinal Sean Brady is among invitees who have confirmed they will attend, while also invited is Canadian businessman Galen Weston and his Dublin-born wife Hilary, owners of Brown Thomas, A-Wear, and BT2 in Ireland, and Selfridges in London.
Brian O'Driscoll was invited to join the guest list of 1,900 VIPs, with wife Amy Huberman, but will be unable to attend the nuptials because the Leinster rugby team are playing in a Heineken Cup semi-final against Toulouse.
"We won't be going because rugby takes precedence over everything," he has said.
One in three people here will tune in at some stage to watch the royal wedding on television, according to a recent survey.
Meanwhile, gardai and the PSNI are ramping up operations against dissident republicans who are planning violence and protests against next month's visit by Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip.
Joint operations along the Border in the past week led to the discovery of what the PSNI described as a "substantial amount" of weapons at a house in Keady in south Armagh yesterday. Three men were arrested, one of whom served time in prison in the Eighties and Nineties for IRA-related activities.
Gardai carried out raids in the Republic, including a raid on a house in Monaghan earlier in the week.
Gardai are today closely monitoring dissident and mainstream republican Easter demonstrations where the dissidents are expected to rally support for protests against the royal visit which begins on May 17.
Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan has asked for substantial extra funding to cover the overtime involved in policing the operation which, gardai say, will require thousands of extra police to be drafted into Dublin. Dublin gardai have already been told that they will all be on duty throughout the visit.
The dissident republicans are highly splintered but gardai have intelligence indicating that they have been in contact with each other to divide up protests along the queen's processional route. The details of the route were published by the British Embassy, as is traditional practice for all royal visits to foreign countries.
The gardai have already carried out security checks along the queen's route to the Garden of Remembrance in Parnell Square and back and forth across Dublin to the Memorial Garden for the Irish who died in the First World War at Islandbridge and Dublin Castle.
One of the gardai's main concerns is that the dissidents will attempt to stir up hooligan elements and re-enact the riotous scenes that surrounded the 'Love Ulster' demonstration in February 2006. On that occasion, looters joined the rioters as violence and vandalism spread across the city centre.
But the main focus is on the small groups of experienced terrorists who have rejected the political settlement in Northern Ireland. Last week, a group claiming to be ex-Provisional IRA figures based in the Tyrone and north Monaghan area claimed responsibility for the murder of PSNI Constable Ronan Kerr in Fermanagh last month.
Both the gardai and PSNI have had concerns about this group since last year when it emerged they had become active again and were targeting Catholic PSNI members.