President stresses benefits of closer links for both states in the future

Higgins looking forward to engaging with Irish community and emigrants

President Michael D Higgins speaks to the media before  his departure  for London at Casement Aerodrome. With him are  his wife  Sabina and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore. Photograph:  Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin.

President Michael D Higgins speaks to the media before his departure for London at Casement Aerodrome. With him are his wife Sabina and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin.

 


Leaving Casement Aerodrome yesterday, President Michael D Higgins said he hoped the four-day state visit to Britain would be the first of many and that they would become more frequent and “relaxed”.

Before boarding the Air Corps Gulfstream aircraft for Heathrow, the President said the visit was “important in many different ways”.

He stressed it was important for both Britain and Ireland to engage with shared history “and to be able to do so in a way that allows all the capacities of the present to be yielded up.” He said Britain and Ireland should “imagine things that we can do together in the future.

“We are at a very interesting point in history where we have, following her majesty’s visit in particular, such good relations between our people. My hope for the visit is that, at the end of it all, people will in more numbers come to share each other’s experiences, history and present circumstances, and culture. We have so many shared experiences already in every area of life.”

Accompanied by his wife Sabina, Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore and his wife Carol Hanney, the President repeatedly said he looked forward to engaging with the Irish community in Britain. He stressed the importance of a recent reception, hosted by Queen Elizabeth, for the members of the Irish community in Britain.

He spoke of the importance of sporting and cultural links, but he also stressed economic relations emphasising the centrality of Britain as a trading partner. “We export half of what we produce,” he said, “and 40 per cent of that goes to our nearest neighbours. But beyond present economic opportunity it is the capacity to be able to engage with a long history . . . and to look at what we can do together sharing a language as we do.”

Looking to his packed itinerary over the next four days, Mr Higgins said he could not single out any one engagement, but citing the emigration of half of his wider family to Britain after the 1950s, he said the meeting the Irish community in Coventry would be of particular note. “It [the schedule] is packed full of great opportunities. It’s obviously very significant to be the first head of state to have an opportunity to make this state visit and to speak to the Commons and Lords.”

He said it was important for him to address the future economic direction of the two countries and what he called the “issues we will share in restructuring the global economy which I will address in Guildhall” in the City of London.

The President praised his British hosts for helping to draw up his programme for the four days. “[They] were very anxious to put in additional events,” he added, and expressing appreciation that the visit was extended from three to four days. The Irish and the British were close, he said, but he hoped the two would grow closer still. He referred to the “extraordinary reception” given to Queen Elizabeth when she visited the Republic three years ago, adding: “I think the reason for that were both the words chosen and the symbolism with which they were delivered.” He spoke of the “generosity and sensitivity” shown by the queen to what he called “present issues”.