President says pain of past must be dealt with
Higgins and wife fly into Heathrow where they are greeted by Irish Ambassador
President Micheal D Higgins and his wife Sabina leaving Casement Aerodrome in Baldonnel yesterday for a four-day State visit to Britain. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
Ireland and Britain must deal with the pain of the past, but must not be crippled by it, President Michael D Higgins has declared on the eve of his four-day State visit to Britain, the first made by an Irish head of state.
Mr Higgins and his wife Sabina, accompanied by Minister for Foreign Affairs Mr Eamon Gilmore and his wife Carol Hanney, flew into Heathrow yesterday evening, where they were greeted by the Irish Ambassador to Britain Dan Mulhall and his wife Greta.
The first day of the visit – which includes a speech in Westminster and a visit to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Westminster – will finish with a State banquet in Windsor Castle, which will be attended by Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness.
Questioned about the efforts to find peace in the North, Mr Higgins told the BBC, in an interview broadcast last night, that there was still “very significant work to do”.
He said the past would have to be faced up to. “Affecting a kind of amnesia is of no value to you, you are better to honestly deal with the facts that are standing behind you as shadows. How could I say to any family whose family member might be in a wheelchair or somebody who is dead, you must put it behind you?”
Later, he added: “I think you have to address the past. You can’t allow yourself to be crippled by the past, you have to be able to approach the past in a way that doesn’t cripple you in the present or damage you into the future.”
Mr Higgins is likely to make references to the pain of British victims of the Troubles before the state dinner takes place in moves that will be seen to reciprocate Queen Elizabeth’s decision to bow her head at the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin three years ago.
The President and Mrs Higgins will be met this morning at the Irish Embassy in London and brought by motorcade to Windsor before they will meet with the queen and Prince Philip and travel the rest of the journey through the town to the castle in horse-drawn carriages.
Last night the Irish party at Heathrow were met by Viscount Hood, representing the queen, and Sir David Brewer, the queen’s lord lieutenant of Greater London, along with the Metropolitan Police commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe.
Mr and Mrs Higgins were driven away from Heathrow in a maroon Bentley. The car was flying a Tricolour.