President Michael D Higgins hails new relationship with UK

Higgins acknowledges 'mutual respect, friendship and co-operation'

The relationship between Ireland and the United Kingdom has achieved a closeness and warmth that once seemed unachievable, President Michael D Higgins has told MPs and members of the House of Lords. In the first address by an Irish head of state in the Palace of Westminster, the President acknowledged “the mutual respect, friendship and co-operation which exists between our two countries”.

“That benign reality was brought into sharp relief by the historic visit of Queen Elizabeth to Ireland three years ago. Her Majesty’s visit eloquently expressed how far we have come in understanding and respecting our differences, and it demonstrated that we could now look at each other through trusting eyes of mutual respect and shared commitments.”

He said the pain and sacrifice associated with the advent of Irish independence inevitably cast a long shadow across relations between the two countries.

Mr Higgins said Britain and Ireland must take pride in the peace that has been built in Northern Ireland.


“I am conscious that I am in the company here of many distinguished parliamentarians who have made their own individual contributions to the journey we have travelled together,” he said.

'Warm friendship'
"I acknowledge them and I salute them, as I acknowledge and salute all those who have selflessly worked to build concord between our peoples. I celebrate our warm friendship and I look forward with confidence to a future in which that friendship can grow even more resolute and more productive."

Mr Higgins paid tribute to the Irish parliamentarians who for more than a century represented the aspirations of the Irish people in the House of Commons in the course of the first ever address delivered by an Irish head of state in the Palace of Westminster.

The President recalled the contribution of Irish political leaders from Daniel O’Connell to those who helped to get Home Rule on the statute book 100 years ago.

“Next month marks the centenary of the passing of the Home Rule Act by the House of Commons – a landmark in our shared history. It was also here that the votes of Irish nationalist MPs in 1911 were instrumental in the passage of the Parliament Act, a critical step in the development of your parliamentary system,” the President told the MPs and Lords who listened to his speech in the Royal Gallery at Westminster.

He also pointed out that history was made in 1918 when the Irish electorate chose the first woman to be elected to parliament, Constance Markievicz, who chose not to take her Westminster seat but, rather, to represent her constituents in the first Dáil Éireann.

“Nearly 90 years earlier, the passage of the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829 was secured by the leadership of our great Irish parliamentarian, Daniel O’Connell. O’Connell’s nationalism set no border to his concern for human rights; his advocacy also extended to causes and movements for justice around the world, including the struggle to end slavery. He was totally dedicated to seeking freedom, as he put it: ‘Attained not by the effusion of human blood but by the constitutional combination of good and wise men.’”

Mr Higgins said that, while O’Connell may not have achieved that ambition during his own lifetime, it was such an idealism that served to guide and influence, so many years later, the achievement of the momentous Good Friday agreement of 1998.

"That achievement was founded on the cornerstones of equality, justice and democratic partnership, and was a key milestone on the road to today's warm, deep and enduring Irish-British friendship."

He added that both countries could take immense pride in the progress of the cause of peace in Northern Ireland, although there was still a road to be travelled.

The President added that generations of Irish emigrants had made their mark on the development of the United Kingdom.

“As someone whose own siblings made their home here, I am very proud of the large Irish community that is represented in every walk of life in the United Kingdom. That community is the living heart in the evolving British-Irish relationship,” Mr Higgins said.

Stephen Collins

Stephen Collins

Stephen Collins is a columnist with and former political editor of The Irish Times