Tag Archives: UK State Visit

New Chapter Written as U.K. State Visit of President Higgins Draws to a Close

What will probably be remembered for its significance in our peace process was the Northern Ireland reception at Windsor Castle and the exchange of commendations between Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister, Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness, and Queen Elizabeth II who both acknowledged each other’s roles in reconciliation.

The quadrangle of smiles at the greeting between them as President Higgins and First Minister Peter Robinson of the DUP look on, captured in the photo accompanying the Irish Times report, says much; about how far we have come in terms of reconciliation on the island of Ireland and between the islands of our Atlantic archipelago, about the human dimension and the role of leaders in peace building, about the potential for the Nationalist and Unionists traditions to find ease with each other within what the great peace builder John Hume called “the totality of relations” between Britain and Ireland.

Bringing the opposing parties together used to be a role played by the United States under President Clinton’s guidance in Washington.  It is a genuine mark of the historic nature of President Higgins’ visit that we see it happening now locally, as it were, under familiar livery.  There is no doubt that the visit will help buoy the leaders on all sides as they seek to work through the issues and challenges that remain in our peace process.

The festive highlight of the programme yesterday was the celebration of Irish arts and artists at the Albert Hall, the Ceiliúradh, organised by Culture Ireland (www.cultureireland.ie) .  As the Irish Independent reported, ‘Taking to the stage to uproarious applause, he said: “On a night like this it is great to be Irish.” He added it was “even better” to share it with “our friends in Britain”.’

Today is the final day of the historic visit when President Higgins and his wife Sabina will bid farewell to his royal hosts.  Our poet President will pay his respects to the great bard Shakespeare by visiting Stratford-Upon-Avon to acknowledge the world’s greatest playwright, a formative writer in the English language which we Irish have adopted and moulded as our own.

Then a visit to Coventry to view its ruined 14th century Cathedral as a symbol of the damage wrought by the German bombing raids during WWII: he will also meet with the strong Irish community there whose roots were laid during the city’s booming manufacturing in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. The President and his wife will depart for Ireland from Coventry Airport.

The official visit of the President of Ireland has written a new chapter in Irish British relations.  It has come at an ideal time as we encounter commemorative centennial rendezvous with some of the most contentions episodes in our history, including the 1916 Rising, the 1919-1921 War of Independence, the Government of Ireland Act of 1920 which partitioned Ireland, the opening of the Northern Ireland parliament in June 1921 by George V, the Treaty Negotiations December 1921, the achievement of Independence in January 1922 and the Irish civil war 1922-23.

By taking stock of the progress in our relationship and registering the genuine warmth between Ireland, North and South, and between Ireland and Britain as displayed by the visit, we can commemorate and remember these events in ways that embrace all of the dimensions of Irish, British Irish and Unionist identities.

I wish you a happy Easter and wonderful Passover celebration,

 

Eamonn

 Some links:

 Report on the Albert Hall celebration here http://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/celebration-shows-how-islands-have-enriched-each-other-1.1758152

And the President’s speech there is here http://www.president.ie/speeches/8179-2/

The Northern Ireland reception here http://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/queen-greets-mcguinness-at-windsor-castle-1.1758014

Final day and farewell is anticipated here http://www.independent.ie/irish-news/state-visits/irish-president-ends-historic-visit-30176455.html

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Highlights of President Higgins State Visit, Wednesday 9th April

The President and his wife Sabina had a very busy schedule embracing many themes in Anglo-Irish relations.  The President called on Prime Minister David Cameron at Downing Street where the improvement in Anglo-Irish relations were noted by both principals, as well as our strong economic ties where 40% of indigenous Irish exports go to Britain and where Ireland is Britain’s fifth largest export market. 

There was then a short trip to Winsdor Castle to view some of its historic artefacts associated with Ireland.  This included the Colours of Irish Regiments of the British Army retired in 1922 when Ireland became indepedent.  The names are evocative; the Connaught Rangers, the Royal Munster Fusiliers, the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, the Prince of Wales Leinster Regiment and the Royal Irish Regiment.

The President then called to City Hall where he was greeted by London’s Lord Mayor Boris Johnson and met fifty young people, including a number from Northern Ireland.  As the President remarked, “In my visits to Northern Ireland I have met with many remarkable young people, already on the path to becoming actors in building a more open and ethical society. They are young people who understand only too well that prejudice or old grievances do not evaporate overnight when peace is announced or new legislation is passed. They know that animosities can only be removed when, as citizens, we transcend such legacies, let go and reach a true sense of human empathy and solidarity with each other, thereby diminishing the toxic impact of sectarianism.” 

During the President’s visit to the Royal Society he noted that the contribution of Irish scientists was often obscured by Irish achievements in the arts. He said that because so many Irish people had succeeded in the worlds of literature and the arts, Ireland’s contribution to science had been overshadowed.  He cited inter alia the scientific achievements of mathematician William Hamilton; physicists John Tyndall and Nicholas Callal; and William Parsons who, in building the world’s largest telescope was able to discover new celestial bodies.  The President looked forward to enhanced cooperation between Science Foundation Ireland (www.sfi.ie ) and the Royal Society to support Irish scientists of outstanding potential.

A central theme of the visit is the contribution of the Irish to all walks of British life and the way in which the Irish have made a home for themselves in Britain.  A good example is the thousands of Irish NHS workers, some of whom the President met at University College Hospital.  He met the newly arrived, those well established and those retired, including Mary Talbot who had arrived in England in 1938.  As the Irish Times’ Miriam Lord reported, “Bernadette Porter from Raphoe in Co Donegal proudly wore on her uniform the MBE she got from Prince Charles in Buckingham Palace this year for her great work in the area of multiple sclerosis.” 

Lord captures too the pride and its undertow of discomfiture that is inevitable in meeting these fine people:  “President Higgins had hugs for the hugely proud and delighted retired nurses, who stood up tall and bade him welcome, tears in their eyes. And he had applause, and then some more, for the men and women who give so much to their adopted country but still love their native land. And that was the real lump in the throat moment. Not anything prompted by pageant or ritual. Just a pride, a deep sadness and yes, a feeling of anger that these wonderful people are not back home doing what they do.”

The keynote event of the day was the banquet at the City of London’s Guildhall hosted by the Lord Mayor of the City of London (its distinct financial district), Fiona Woolf.  There were some seven hundred guests, primarily from the business sector but also featuring some famous names from the arts and showbusiness.  His speech noted the antiquity of the relationship between this august venue and Ireland: “I am of course conscious of the particular role that the Guildhall has played in Irish history. It was here, in 1609, that the Irish Society was conceived, during a meeting at which representatives from the livery companies of London considered undertaking a plantation in Ulster, on lands recently seized from Gaelic chieftains, and the construction of the first planned city in Ireland, on the Western bank of river Foyle.”  

The main focus on the President’s Guildhall speech was the strengths of the Irish economy, the human cost of the financial crisis and Ireland’s recovery.  The President voiced his deeper concerns about the ethical questions that the financial industry and its crises raised: “When the financial and technological forces that hold sway are unaccountable and seem more powerful than Governments, it poses the question as to who is responsible for their consequences. These are profound issues which require a rich public discourse that seeks to find and craft a sustainable and ethical relationship between economy and society. We need, for example, an approach that embraces the totality of the work of the great Adam Smith. Yes, we may be familiar with the author of the utilitarian Wealth of Nations; but we also need the so much more ethically minded author of Theory of Moral Sentiments.”

Tonight the President and his delegation will attend the Ceiliúradh (celebratory festival) at the Royal Albert Hall where leading Irish musicians, singers, actors, authors and poets will celebrate the range and depth of creative Irish endeavours Ireland, underling the contribution of the Irish community in Britain. Performing guests include from the world of music Paul Brady, the Gloaming, Glen Hansard, Imelda May, actress Fiona Shaw, author Joseph O’Connor and broadcasters Dermot O’Leary and the great Olivia O’Leary, plus I understand some surprise appearances.

 Links to some highlights and speeches below.

 Eamonn

Miriam Lord’s column here http://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/uk/hospital-visit-a-tonic-for-proud-irish-staff-1.1756373?page=1

Report on the meeting at Downing street here http://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/cameron-extends-warm-welcome-to-vip-lunch-guest-at-number-10-1.1756370

Windsor Castle museum here http://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/president-views-colours-of-disbanded-irish-regiments-at-windsor-castle-1.1756392 

President Higgins’ speech at the youth event, City Hall, here http://www.president.ie/speeches/speech-at-youth-event-city-hall-take-charge-of-change-glac-seilbh-ar-athru/

Visit to the Royal Society here http://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/irish-scientists-overlooked-in-favour-of-artists-says-president-1.1756413 and his speech here http://www.president.ie/speeches/speech-by-michael-d-higgins-president-of-ireland-at-the-royal-society-london

The President’s Guildhall speech here http://www.president.ie/speeches/speech-by-michael-d-higgins-president-of-ireland-guildhall-banquet-london

Information on the Albert Hall event is here http://www.royalalberthall.com/tickets/ceiliuradh/default.aspx

 

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