Higgins hopes for State visit to Britain


PRESIDENT VISITS LONDON:PRESIDENT MICHAEL D Higgins has expressed hope that he could make a State visit to Britain early next year, though no final arrangements have been made between the Irish and British governments.

“I have also said that when all of the authorities have had their usual consultations and discussions as to what is appropriate my personal feeling is to return the State visit as early as possible,” he said, during a visit to the GAA grounds in Ruislip in west London.

“It isn’t my area to make the arrangements, but my personal hope would be early next year, if at all possible,” said Mr Higgins, who was accompanied by his wife, Sabina and the Irish Ambassador, Bobby McDonagh.

Asked about Sinn Féin’s decision to approve a meeting between Queen Elizabeth and Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, Mr Higgins said: “I think it will be very helpful.”

“The whole matter of reconciliation and of the deepening friendships between the communities will be brought on and I think it will be of assistance,” said Mr Higgins, who later attended the Druid Theatre’s triptych of plays by Tom Murphy in the Hampstead Theatre.

“All of us must realise that the Good Friday agreement is not a finished project, or process, but rather the release of a project and a process that includes deepening and encouraging relationships between all aspects of our lives,” he said.

Mr Higgins expanded on remarks he had made last week to The Irish Post where he suggested that “ghost estates” left unoccupied after the collapse of the Irish property boom could be made available for holidays for older Irish emigrants in Britain.

“I was reflecting on the general suggestion that if you do have accommodation and faced with all of the options for their use before one would consider demolition, certainly,” he said, emphasising that policy decisions are a matter for ministers.

“It is something that is well worthy of consideration. It is something that perhaps could be advanced with whatever is the appropriate department, probably in housing and the county associations in Britain,” he added.

From his experience of working with emigrants, he said many of those who left “in the great wave” between 1955 and 1961 do not want to return permanently to Ireland because they do not want “to disrupt” pensions and medical arrangements.

On occasions, some have gone back to find their contemporaries from childhood had died. “So what they want is the opportunity to make a connection, rather than making a permanent move back,” he said.