With the news this week that a visit from Queen Elizabeth II may be in the offing, I have posted up below a piece I wrote on the subject of a royal visit about two years ago. It was published in the Informer, a publication which is well-worth a read.
If you take a look at the President’s website, you will see that there are is a regular stream of foreign dignitaries to meet President McAlsee. Unless you happen to be to driving through the Phoenix Park when the entourage of say the President of Estonia arrives at the Áras, you won’t notice their visit. Maybe there will be a nice photograph in the next day’s newspaper, but beyond that, such visits are largely just a matter for the President, the Department of Foreign Affairs, and those invited to the receptions held on such occasions.
I am not naïve enough to believe that the first visit by the British Head of State will be a similar event, involving a few cups of tea, sandwiches and canapés in the Phoenix Park. Ignored by all but a few invited to the event. This I believe will be the case in ten, twenty years time but the first visit by the Queen will be an historic and momentous event, which will excite amongst sections of the population considerable interest and opposition.
I would be lying if I said I was overly interested in such a visit, I won’t be looking for an invitation to whatever reception takes place and haven’t much interest in meeting the Queen herself. But, I believe that in the context of normalising relations between Ireland and Britain such a visit can, and should take place. As the Bertie Ahern rightly pointed out in his address to the Joint Houses of Congress in Washington, Ireland is now at peace. The Good Friday Agreement now seems to be firmly rooted and consent has now been accepted by all sides as the means to achieve national unification. Within that context, previous barriers to such a visit are removed. That there will be some protests by those who still live in a mind set from the early 20th century, that is no good reason for the visit not to take place- if it ever was a good reason.
For all my adult life, opinion-makers of various shapes and make have discussed the merits and demerits of this visit. For a number of reasons, I believe it best to end this debate, and move relations on between Ireland and Britain.
According to the most recent census, there are over 100,000 British citizens resident in this state. While for many of them, such a visit would be irrelevant, I do believe that for some, it will provide an affirmation of the acceptance of their nationality by the Irish state. Unfortunately, there are still some undercurrents of hostility to those who express a British identity in this state. Such a visit would go a strong way towards dispelling that. It would mark an acceptance of the legitimacy of British identity by the Irish republic.
Following on from that, our relationship with Britain remains our most important external affair. Since joining the European Union in 1973, we have moved from a country largely dependent on the British economy, to an equal partner with Britain within that Union. However, on many issues within the EU as well as on issues such as the Common Travel Area, we have very similar stances. We co-operate on many, many subjects, for example in the area of Tax Harmonisation, it is Ireland and Britain who lead opposition to this within the European Union. A visit by the Queen will allow Ireland to focus our efforts in co-operation in those areas, rather than historical issues. Furthermore, strengthening the British Irish relationship will allow further progress in establishing All-Ireland bodies and improving North South bodies.
While constitutional monarchy is not something which appeals to my political ideology, I do recognise that for the vast majority of the British public, the monarchy is held in affection. By extending due courtesy to the Queen, by holding a dignified reception for the Head of State of our nearest neighbour, we will show to the general British public our view of them as a neighbour whom we hold in good regard.
A visit by the Queen to Ireland – in essence the normalisation of Anglo-Irish relations will go far in strengthening the relationship on a number of levels. More importantly, it will see the relationship develop further as that between two independent, sovereign states, just as between any two neighbouring states. Like co-operation between Portugal and Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands, Sweden and Finland, such a visit will mark the acceptance that the Anglo-Irish relationship is a normal bi-lateral relationship, not an event dominated by historical antagonisms.
For those reasons, and for a simple desire to end this seemingly never ending debate, I will welcome a visit from the Queen.