President’s state visit to UK opens up ‘limitless opportunities’

Taoiseach predicts Higgins’s visit would showcase Ireland and benefit economy

President Michael D Higgins’s three-day state visit next April will include a state banquet at Windsor Castle, meetings with political leaders, and most likely a banquet for business leaders, hosted by the lord mayor of London at the city’s Guildhall venue. Photograph: Julien Behal/PA Wire

President Michael D Higgins’s three-day state visit next April will include a state banquet at Windsor Castle, meetings with political leaders, and most likely a banquet for business leaders, hosted by the lord mayor of London at the city’s Guildhall venue. Photograph: Julien Behal/PA Wire

Mon, Nov 18, 2013, 13:56

The forthcoming visit of President Michael D Higgins to Britain opens up “limitless and endless opportunities” for Ireland, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said.

He predicted the first ever state visit by an Irish head of State to Britain would “showcase” Ireland and benefit its economy.

Speaking to reporters in Castlebar, Co Mayo before officially opening Europe Code Week at the local St Gerald’s College, Mr Kenny said the proposed three-day visit next April by Mr Higgins would strengthen the close-knit links which Queen Elizabeth first forged by coming here.

Mark Hennessy on the State visit

“I think it’s a brilliant opportunity to showcase Ireland in its modernity and the new level (of influence) with which we operate in Britain.”

Mr Kenny said there are now 50,000 Irish people on the boards of British companies.

Britain was our closest neighbour, our biggest trading partner and was “the first out of the traps to assist Ireland monies on loan” when economic catastrophe hit us a number of years ago.

The benefits from the visit would ripple through the Irish economy in many ways, he added.

The visit was announced by Buckingham Palace in a brief statement, though full details about the engagements to be carried out during the visit between April 8th and 10th will not be released for some months.

Presidents Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese, several times, visited Britain during their terms in office and met the queen, but none of their trips were accorded the status of a state visit - the highest ranking in the diplomatic league.

The visit follows the Queen’s hugely successful trip to Ireland in May 2011.

Former president Mary Robinson said Britain’s invitation was “evidence of the close ties” that now exist between the countries.

She said the visit would also afford both countries a chance to heal the wounds of the past and would further peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland.

Mrs Robinson became the first serving Irish President to visit the UK when she met Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace in 1993.

“I remember there was even a controversy about what I would be called,” she told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland programme.

“The British did not want to use President of Ireland so there were various versions (including) President Mary Robinson of Ireland.”

She also spoke of emerging from her meeting with Queen to mass of media camped outside, “and that was a photo that went all around the world of the two heads of State standing side by side.”

On the same programme, the British Ambassador to Ireland, Dominick Chilcott, described the visit as “very significant”.

“It shows the determination of the two countries and the two governments to heal the wounds of the past, and make the most of all that we’ve got in common and the deepening of the relationship we have now.”

He said the Windsor Castle setting was normally reserved for more important state visitors and indicated the Palace’s desire to make the visit “feel very special”.

Mr Chilcott said the visit would include a state banquet at Windsor Castle, meetings with political leaders, and most likely a banquet for business leaders, hosted by the lord mayor of London at the city’s Guildhall venue.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams also welcomed the visit, saying it should be a catalyst for governments to implement the outstanding elements of the Belfast agreement.

“The process of political change and peace building needs to be advanced urgently. This visit could be a focus for this,” he said.

Also welcoming the announcement, Fianna Fáil Leader Micheál Martin said it marked “a further step in the ever improving relationship between Ireland and Britain.”

“The Irish community in Britain will be delighted to welcome President Higgins on the first official state visit,” he said.

“This visit will provide many opportunities to promote Ireland and to further improve trade between our two countries,” Mr Martin added.

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