Queen says Ireland, Britain should live as friends

Higgins praises the queen on first day of state visit for not shying away from shadows of the past

Britain's Queen Elizabeth commended improving ties with Ireland at a state banquet to honour Irish President Michael Higgins, who became the first Irish head of state to visit Britain. Video: Reuters


Queen Elizabeth has said the “regrettable pain” felt by many in Ireland and the United Kingdom at our chequered history could be overcome for the mutual benefit of both countries.

She was speaking at a banquet in Windsor Castle in honour of President Michael D Higgins at the end of the first day of his four-day state visit to the UK.

The queen and Mr Higgins spoke at the banquet, which marked the end of an eventful day during which the President visited Westminster Abbey and addressed a joint sitting of the Houses of Parliament.

Stephen Collins analysis

In her speech, the queen said the goal of modern British-Irish relations could be simply stated: “It is that we who inhabit these islands should live together as neighbours and friends. Respectful of each other’s nationhood, sovereignty and traditions. Co-operating to our mutual benefit. At ease in each other’s company.

“After so much chequered history, the avoidable and regrettable pain of which is still felt by many of us, this goal is now within reach,” she said.

Great pleasure
The queen said she and Prince Philip recalled their visit to Ireland three years ago with great pleasure because of the warm reception they received wherever they went.

“But even more pleasing since then, is that we, the Irish and British, are becoming good and dependable neighbours and better friends, finally shedding our inhibitions about seeing the best in each other.”

She said that as the two countries entered a period of historical resonance it was right to look back in remembrance.

“In Dublin, I laid wreaths in the Garden of Remembrance for those who died in the cause of Irish freedom; and at Islandbridge, where Ireland’s dead from the first World War are commemorated.”

She noted the contribution of Irish people to every walk of British life. “And yet, over the years, many Irish migrants to Britain encountered discrimination and a lack of appreciation. Happily, those days are now behind us and it is widely recognised that Britain is a better place because of the Irish people who live here.

“We can celebrate not just the Irish men and women who helped to build Britain but also the Irish architects who helped to design it, including that great architect of parliamentary reform, Daniel O’Connell, whose life and work you will have remembered this afternoon on your visit to parliament.”

“My visit to Ireland and your visit this week, Mr President, show that we are walking together towards a brighter, more settled future. We will remember our past but we shall no longer allow our past to ensnare our future. This is the greatest gift we can give to succeeding generations.”

In his speech, Mr Higgins complimented the queen on choosing not to shy away from shadows of the past during her Irish visit. “We valued your apt and considered words when you addressed some of the painful moments of our mutual history and we were moved by your gestures of respect at sites of national historical significance in Ireland.”

Reciprocal gesture
Earlier, Mr Higgins paused and bowed his head in Westminster Abbey at the plaque in honour of Earl Mountbatten, who was murdered by the IRA in Co Sligo in 1979*. The move was designed to reciprocate the gesture made by the queen when she bowed her head at the Garden of Remembrance.

In his speech in Windsor Castle the President said “these memorable moments and these moving words merit our appreciation and, even more, our reciprocity”.

At the banquet, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and British prime minister David Cameron were seen in extended jocular conversation with Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness. The white-tie dinner was attended by 160 guests.

* This article was amended on Wednesday, April 9, 2014, to correct an error.

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