The Dublin and London governments have formally begun the process of arranging a state visit to the 26 Counties by the ‘Queen of England’ Elizabeth Windsor, it was announced yesterday.
No British monarch has visited the 26 Counties since they gained independence in 1921. Taoiseach Brian Cowen said he hoped the visit could take place by the end of next year.
“We have started the process between both prime ministers’ offices whereby we can look to this prospect,” he said. As I say, I would like to see it happening during the tenure of our own president.”
President Mary McAleese finishes her tenure in November of next year.
Mr Cowen was speaking following his first formal meeting with new British Prime Minister David Cameron in London yesterday. The Taoiseach claimed the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and subsequent agreements had “totally transformed” relations between the 26 County state and Britain.
The prospect of an exchange of visits by the respective heads of state would be keeping with the “normal courtesies observed between friendly neighbouring states”, he added.
He said it would reinforce the normalisation of the political situation in the North and relationships between the two states.
“I think also that the importance of an exchange of state visits says a lot about the modern bilateral relationships we now have.”
President McAleese has met Windsor on several occasions, including during a visit to Six Counties in 2008.
A spokeswoman for the president said yesterday that she was looking forward to the prospect of a visit by the monarch “in the near future”.
Sinn Fein issued a strong statement opposing the move, saying such a visit would be “totally unacceptable” because of Windsor’s role as head of the British armed forces and the forces’ continued presence in Ireland.
Sinn Fein TD Caoimhghin O Caolain TD said that while the Saville report exonerating the Bloody Sunday victims was a welcome development, it was only the “tip of the iceberg” in relation to British state killings in the Six Counties.
“Until there is complete withdrawal of the British military and the British administration from Ireland, and until there is justice and truth for victims of collusion, no official welcome should be accorded to any officer of the British armed forces of any rank,” he said.
The announcement was also condemned by Republican Sinn Fein, who said it was tantamount to “a declaration that the process of normalisation is complete and the pacification of Ireland has been successful”.
“British rule in Ireland can never be normal nor will Ireland be pacified while partition and British rule remain,” the party said.
“ Republican Sinn Fein will vigorously oppose any visit to Ireland by the Queen of England and calls on all Republicans to do likewise.
It said the announcement was “a gross insult” by the families of those who have lost loved ones as a result of British rule.
“Only when Britain leaves Ireland for good and offers an acceptable apology for the wrong doings of 800 years of occupation will the conditions exist for a possible state visit by her to Ireland. In the mean time Republicans must be prepared to take to the streets in protest at any visit.”