Presidential visit to UK being given huge attention
Higgins’s visit is being given special marks of favour by Buckingham Palace
Mr Higgins and his wife Sabina will stay at Windsor Castle – a privilege usually accorded only to visiting monarchs and one United States president, Ronald Reagan. Photograph: Steve Parsons/PA
President Michael D Higgins’s State visit to Britain next month – the first by an Irish head-of-state – is being given near unprecedented attention by the British authorities.
During the four days, beginning on Tuesday, April 8th, both sides will be keen to emphasise the depth of past relations, current improvements and the Irish contribution to British life.
The visit is being given a series of special marks of favour by Buckingham Palace – for a start the visit lasts a day longer than is usual for such events.
Meanwhile, Mr Higgins and his wife Sabina will stay at Windsor Castle – a privilege usually accorded only to visiting monarchs and one United States president Ronald Reagan.
Queen Elizabeth, who hosted a Buckingham Palace reception yesterday for the Irish community living in Britain, will host an official state dinner in Windsor Castle.
Unusually, however, she will also host a reception on the final afternoon of the visit in Windsor Castle that will be “Northern Ireland-themed”.
“The queen has been particularly attentive to the preparations for this visit. She wants to be across the details,” a palace spokesman told The Irish Times .
Details of the four-day visit between April 7th and April 11th were released yesterday following months of preparations involving both governments.
The official visit opens on Tuesday, April 8th, when the President and Mrs Higgins will meet Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall at the Irish Embassy and be brought by motorcade to Windsor.
There the final part of the journey through the royal town will be made by horse-drawn carriage before the playing of Amhrán na bhFiann and God Save The Queen as they are greeted by Queen Elizabeth.
Hundreds of MPs
Mr Higgins will address hundreds of MPs and peers in the Palace of Westminster on Tuesday afternoon in a speech that will focus on the depth of Anglo-Irish relations along past troubles and wounds.
However, both Mr Higgins and the queen, when she speaks at the official state banquet later that night, will concentrate on the hopes for greater co-operation in the future.
In line with royal protocol, the palace has refused to list the names of those who have been invited for the state banquet on Tuesday night, although the presence of Sinn Féin’s Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness is being speculated upon.
Three years ago Sinn Féin was widely seen to have erred in boycotting the queen’s visit, though it is so far unclear whether Mr McGuinness has been invited to the state banquet on Tuesday.
However, his attendance so early in the visit could overshadow other parts of the programme, so it is possible that Mr McGuinness could be invited to the Northern Ireland reception.
PRESIDENTIAL VISIT PROGRAMME HIGHLIGHTS
Tuesday, April 8th
President Higgins and his wife Sabina will be taken by horse-drawn carriage through the streets of Windsor accompanied by Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall.
Amhran na bhFiann will be played by the Band of the Irish Guards as he is greeted by Queen Elizabeth in Windsor Castle.
A wreath-laying at Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Westminster Abbey. Address to the joint Houses of Parliament in Westminster. State banquet hosted by the queen in Windsor.
Wednesday, April 9th
Inspects colours of disbanded Irish regiments accompanied by Duke of York. Meets past and present Irish National Health Service staff.
Speech to the Royal Society.
Lunch with prime minister David Cameron at No 10 Downing Street.
Meets Nick Clegg at Buckingham Palace. Banquet at the Guildhall given by the lord mayor of the City of London.
Thursday, April 10th
Visits farm in Oxford famed for its sustainable practices. Visit to the racing stables of Anthony Balding.
Northern Ireland reception at Windsor Castle hosted by the Queen. Musical celebration of Ireland at the Royal Albert Hall.
Friday, April 11th
Formal farewell to the queen and Duke of Edinburgh at Windsor.
Visits the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford-upon-Avon.
Visit to William Shakespeare’s birthplace.
Visits Coventry Cathedral and meets with Irish community in the city.