Invitation to Windsor Castle ‘very significant’, President says

Ahead of first state visit to Britain Higgins urges Irish not to be ‘crippled’ by memories of past

President Michael D Higgins has spoken of the significance of the invitation to visit Queen Elizabeth at her home in Windsor Castle. File photograph: Cyril Byrne / The Irish Times

President Michael D Higgins has spoken of the significance of the invitation to visit Queen Elizabeth at her home in Windsor Castle. File photograph: Cyril Byrne / The Irish Times

Mon, Apr 7, 2014, 15:06

President Michael D Higgins has spoken of the “significance” of the invitation to visit Queen Elizabeth at her home in Windsor Castle.

Speaking in advance of his the first State visit to Britain he called on Irish people not to be “crippled” by memories of the past but to envisage the future and emphasised the importance of the visit for the Irish community living in the UK.

“Many of their parents and grandparents will have often thought could it ever happen, the head of an Irish independent state visiting the Queen and being received with such enthusiasm and generosity.”

Mr Higgins and his wife Sabina will fly to London today accompanied by Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny will join them there tomorrow after the weekly Cabinet meeting.

The President said this morning the queen’s invitation to visit her home at Windsor Castle was a “very significant gesture” that was “greatly appreciated.”

Mr Higgins said he looked forward to spending time with the queen and her family and said they would have lots to talk about.

“We talked about horses before, so we’ll be talking about matters both cultural and equine.”

Mr Higgins said there has been a change in attitude towards the queen since her visit to Ireland in 2011.

He said he could sense this change amongst both the Irish community living in Britain and those back home in Ireland.

Speaking of the queen’s speech during the state dinner at Dublin Castle during that visit, Mr Higgins said “one cannot underestimate the power of the word”.

“The words chosen and the symbolic way they were delivered were very important.”

He said that the queen’s decision not to ignore the past but to address it added “generosity to an ethic of memory that recognised the story of the other.”

The President also reflected on his “multi-layered” experience of the UK through his academic research on the “circular” migration between Ireland and Britain and his own personal connection to Britain through his sisters who moved there in the 1950s.

He also spoke of the “complexity” of the different Irish communities living in the UK; from the older man living without social insurance, to the young graduate who previously had expectations of an easier life.

Asked on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland how the visit would affect the Northern Ireland peace process, Mr Higgins reminded listeners the Northern Irish process is not an invitation to forget the past and develop amnesia.

“The peace process is that, it is a process that continues after the formal agreements. Ultimately it is an exercise in consciousness at the level of community.”

Minister of State for European Affairs, Paschal Donohoe, who also spoke on Morning Ireland, said the visit will deliver “huge consequences and benefits for our country.”

Mr Donohoe added the Irish/British relationship had transformed from “dependence to independence to interdependence.”

“The most important prism through which you can view this historic event is what it will mean for the Irish people over there,” said Mr Donohoe.

“Up to one in four people in the UK have some form of Irishness in them. The visit of the President and the level at which the visit is being made will be a hugely affirming experience for them.”