Taoiseach pays tribute to queen’s ‘contribution to reconciliation on these islands’

Taoiseach discusses NI protocol with Truss at Downing Street as Higgins signs book of condolences

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has paid tribute to Queen Elizabeth II’s “contribution to reconciliation on these islands” after he and President Michael D Higgins travelled London for her funeral on Monday.

President Higgins will lead the Irish delegation joining around 500 international dignitaries including US president Joe Biden to attend the funeral at Westminster Abbey.

The President said the queen deserved the tributes that have been made as “she represented such an extraordinary combination of talents, a sense of duty to which nearly everybody has referred, a great knowledge of what was happening in the world and a concern for people.

In comments reported by RTÉ, he also remembered her “her warmth and her deep patient concern that the future would be one that would bring peace” when it came to Irish matters.

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“It is a great, great privilege to be able to pay tribute to somebody who valued friendship so valuably,” he said.

On Sunday, Mr Martin met new British prime minister Liz Truss at Downing Street for almost an hour with the pair agreeing there is an opportunity to find a negotiated outcome to the dispute over the Northern Ireland protocol.

However, the meeting was kept low key with little emerging on what they discussed as Britain continues its period of mourning for the queen.

Speaking to reporters in London, Mr Martin limited his remarks to paying tribute to the late queen for her “dedicated service to the people of the United Kingdom and of course her contribution to reconciliation on these islands and particularly in terms of the relationship between Britain and Ireland.”

He added: “We all recall that historic visit in 2011 which in many ways cemented the relationship between our two countries in the modern era — almost the crowning event of a whole series of events prior to that in terms of peace building and reconciliation leading to the Good Friday Agreement.

“And I think that was the significance of that visit but also her warmth, her authentic actions and by actions and what she did she made an enormous contribution.”

The President and the Taoiseach on Sunday paid their respects at the queen’s coffin which is lying in state at Westminster Hall, and signed a book of condolence at Lancaster House.

King Charles III was to host a reception for visiting heads of state at Buckingham Palace on Sunday evening which Mr Martin and Mr Higgins were expected to attend.

Mr Martin said he offered condolences to the British people when he met Ms Truss on Sunday morning. The pair are understood to have discussed the importance and depth of relations between Ireland and Britain and unity on global challenges.

They also discussed the Northern Ireland protocol and they agreed an opportunity exists for the European Union and the United Kingdom to find a negotiated outcome to the disagreements on the mechanism for avoiding a hard Border in Ireland.

Earlier this week, Mr Martin said the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Maroš Šefčovič is demonstrating “flexibility” and a “desire to be solution-driven” in proposing ideas on resolving the Northern Ireland protocol issue.

Mr Šefčovič said physical customs checks across the Irish Sea could be reduced to just a few lorries a day, as he expressed hope Ms Truss was ready to do a deal over Northern Ireland. Ms Truss has indicated her preference is for a negotiated solution to the protocol issue, having previously spearheaded UK government legislation aimed at scrapping parts of the deal unilaterally.

Asked on Sunday about the meeting between Mr Martin and Ms Truss, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said: “I think the signals that we’ve got in the last number of days from London have been quite positive in terms of the willingness to talk honestly with each other again about trying to find a compromise and a negotiated way forward on the issues round the protocol and Brexit and certainly both then Taoiseach and I will be working had to support that.”

Ireland’s Catholic Primate Archbishop Eamon Martin and Presbyterian Moderator Rev Dr John Kirkpatrick will be among faith leaders attending the funeral in Westminster.

Archbishop Martin said that since Queen Elizabeth’s death there has been an outpouring of affection and genuine respect from right across the island of Ireland.

“I hope and pray that in some small ways this has helped to strengthen relationships and mutual understanding between our communities. Queen Elizabeth herself would want this. She was a courageous peacemaker and a reconciler of difference,” he said.

Rev Dr Kirkpatrick said it was “an honour to take part and represent Irish Presbyterians at such an historic and unique moment.” While a very public occasion, the funeral would be “a deeply personal moment for the members of the late Queen’s family. My thoughts and prayers, along with many across our denomination, will be with them today,” he said.

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times