Former president Mary Robinson welcomes planned State visit to Britain by President Michael D Higgins

Monday 18 November 2013 21.41
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President Michael D Higgins has accepted the invitation to become the first Irish head of State to make an official State visit to Britain
President Michael D Higgins has accepted the invitation to become the first Irish head of State to make an official State visit to Britain
Britain's Queen Elizabeth met President Higgins during a visit to the Lyric Theatre, Belfast in June 2012
Britain's Queen Elizabeth met President Higgins during a visit to the Lyric Theatre, Belfast in June 2012
In May 2011 the British Queen arrived in Ireland for a three-day State visit
In May 2011 the British Queen arrived in Ireland for a three-day State visit
During the visit Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh were given a tour of Croke Park
During the visit Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh were given a tour of Croke Park
Queen Elizabeth delivered a landmark speech at a State reception in Dublin Castle
Queen Elizabeth delivered a landmark speech at a State reception in Dublin Castle
Both heads of State observed a minute's silence after laying wreaths at the Irish War Memorial Garden
Both heads of State observed a minute's silence after laying wreaths at the Irish War Memorial Garden

Former president Mary Robinson has described the invitation issued by Britain's Queen to President Michael D Higgins as a chance for Ireland and Britain to heal the wounds of the past.

President Higgins yesterday accepted the invitation to become the first Irish head of State to make an official State visit to Britain.

Statements issued from Áras an Uachtaráin and Buckingham Palace last night announced the visit would take place from 8-10 April next year.

Ms Robinson said she was delighted that Britain had issued the invitation.

She said the visit next year would be good for peace and reconciliation in both countries.

Ms Robinson became the first serving Irish President to visit Britain when she met Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace in May, 1993.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland the former president recalled: "I remember there was even a controversy about what I would be called.

"The British did not want to use President of Ireland so there were various versions (such as) President Mary Robinson of Ireland."

"After we had tea the Queen and myself came out towards a doorway and there were press amassed outside. 

"That was a photo that went all around the world - two heads of State standing side by side." 

The former president said the invitation for a full State visit shows how far the diplomatic process has come.

"Even in early 1991 when I was asked to carry out events in Britain and asked permission under the Constitution of the Government there was quite a lot of controversy because no previous president had ever done anything in Britain. 

"The question was was this possible?"

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the visit would provide "limitless opportunities".

Speaking in Castlebar, Co Mayo, Mr Kenny said the visit would close the circle on a journey that Queen Elizabeth had started with her State visit to Ireland in 2011.

Mr Kenny said there were 50,000 people on the boards of British companies, the country was Ireland's biggest trading partner and had not been found wanting when Ireland was in need of economic assistance in the recent past.

He said that while the manner of the visit had yet to be finalised, he was sure that Irish people in Britain and around the world would welcome the trip. 

Mr Kenny said the links between both countries had developed hugely since the dark days of the 1970s.

The Taoiseach said that this enhanced standing had a particular relevance for the tourism sector but would benefit the entire economy in many ways.

Northern Ireland's Secretary of State Theresa Villiers welcomed the announcement, saying it will be a significant and historical occasion.

She also said the three-day visit in April "will provide some great opportunities to celebrate the friendly and positive relationship that the UK and Ireland now enjoy, a relationship which is closer than it has ever been".

Gearoid Ó Tuathaigh from the Council of State has said the visit marks a strong confirmation of normalisation of the relationship between the two states and their political leaders.

The Galway professor said the meeting will mark a long period of maturation between the two states and confirm cordial relationships.

A London Banquet expected to be part of the State visit will be hosted by the Lord Mayor of the City of London, Fiona Woolf.

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