Irish-British relations were ‘terrible at times’ but Queen Elizabeth was ‘anxious to improve’ them, says President

President says queen’s 2011 visit was of ‘significant importance’ in acknowledging Irish independence

Queen Elizabeth II was “anxious to improve relations” between Irish and British people and her historic state visit in 2011 could not be underestimated in importance, President Michael D Higgins has said.

Speaking on The Late Late Show on Friday evening, the President said the queen’s three-day visit to the Republic in May 2011, the first by a British monarch since Irish independence, was of “significant importance”.

“What it means to have acknowledgment of Irish independence – it was a very, very significant statement as was the statement in relation to the Irish language,” he said.

The statement was “very, very important,” he said, adding: “It is a very terrible point in history where you forbid a peoples’ language.”


On Thursday evening, Buckingham Palace announced the queen, who was 96 years old, had died at Balmoral Castle in Scotland. Earlier, she had been put under medical supervision after doctors became “concerned” about her health.

Speaking of his personal interactions with the queen, Mr Higgins’ said “she couldn’t have been warmer ... There was never any doubt that we were meeting as heads of state, there was that respect there”.

Mr Higgins said he “got the impression” that both the queen and her son, King Charles III, “had a better sense of history and a better capacity to engage on what the future might look like” than many in politics.

However, it would be “very foolish to be affecting an amnesia about the past”, he said.

“We have to make the best of the future and lose no opportunities in the present but we are not required to imagine false versions of each other or of our history.

“It’s not good enough maybe to say it’s complex – it was bitter, vicious and terrible at times.

“There isn’t any point in pretending anything – empire was empire, empire led to domination and dispossession, and the idea of colonisation and the lesser.”

Separately, the President made reference to the deaths of three siblings in Tallaght last week, the death of horse rider Jack De Bromhead (13) and of two children, a young girl and a toddler, in Westmeath on Friday.

“The capacity to share grief” in communities and across the country was “very important” in moments of loss such as those, he said, describing their deaths as “unspeakable”.

Jade Wilson

Jade Wilson

Jade Wilson is a reporter for The Irish Times