Amid unprecedented security operation, the Queen has arrived on Tuesday in the Republic of Ireland for the first visit by a British monarch.
DUBLIN – Queen Elizabeth wearing a green coat and hat and the Duke of Edinburgh flew into Baldonnel military airbase near Dublin yesterday at noon. The Royals were greeted by an Irish Air Corps guard of honour and presented with flowers by a south Dublin schoolgirl, the BBC informs.
King George V was the last reigning monarch to visit the country, in 1911, when what is now the Republic was then part of the UK. One of the biggest security operations ever mounted in the Republic is in place for the four-day trip, amid a rise in dissident republican violence. The Irish army made safe a pipe bomb found on a passenger bus to Dublin on Monday. A bomb threat to London on Sunday was investigated earlier.
The cost of the security operation has been estimated at 30 million euros with measures including the deployment of more than 6,000 Irish police and Defence Forces personnel onto the streets of Dublin, a ring of steel, comprising 25 miles of crowd-control barriers, installed around the Irish capital.
From the airbase, the Queen was escorted to Aras an Uachtarain, the official residence of the Irish president in Dublin’s Phoenix Park. The escort included 33 green Honda motorbikes with green, red and black tricolour flags for the Second Cavalry Squadron, representing the 32 counties of Ireland, plus one with the Union flag.
The visit is taking place following McAleese’s invitation. The Queen shook hands with Mrs McAleese at the front of the residence before moving inside to meet the Taoiseach (prime minister) Enda Kenny.
The Irish and Union flags flew side by side at the gates to the building, where both countries’ national anthems were played. A 21-gun salute and an Air Corps flypast also greeted the Queen’s arrival.
Ahead of the visit, UK Prime Minister David Cameron said: “One hundred years on from the last time a British monarch visited Ireland, I think there is a great sense of history and occasion.” He will join the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh for part of their trip today, while Foreign Secretary William Hague is following the usual practice of accompanying the royals throughout their visit.
Former Prime Minister Sir John Major, who helped to establish the Northern Ireland peace process in the early 1990s, said the Queen’s visit would “put a seal” on the relationship between the UK and the Republic of Ireland.
Former Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said the four-day visit was hugely significant, and showed the “maturity” of the relationship between the country and the Queen and British government. “Except for a tiny minority, people welcome this,” he said.
Mending the past
The queen’s visit is one that many in Ireland believed would never happen, and will mark the reconciliation between two neighbouring countries that once viewed each with suspicion and hostility, CNN notes. Ireland’s fight to free itself from its former imperial master is likely to form much of the narrative of the visit. There will be constant reminders of the violent past. Her plane touched down at Casement Aerodrome, a military airfield named after Roger Casement, who was executed for treason in 1916 for conspiring with the Germans. His fate was sealed when the queen’s grandfather George V refused to commute his death sentence. Like all foreign heads of state, the queen will then go to Dublin’s Garden of Remembrance where she will pay her respects alongside McAleese to “all those who gave their lives in the cause of Irish Freedom.” She will travel to another nationalist shrine, Croke Park, where British troops opened fire on a crowd watching a Gaelic football match in November 1920, killing 14. The massacre was sparked by the murder of 14 British intelligence officers by the IRA.
The Irish war of Independence that the killing was a part of directly led to partition of Ireland in 1921. The majority of the island gained independence but six of the nine counties of the province of Ulster chose to stay in the United Kingdom, eventually becoming the country of Northern Ireland. In the late 1960s the conflict between mainly Protestant unionists who want Northern Ireland to remain part of the UK and largely Roman Catholic nationalists who want the North to be reunited with the rest of Ireland exploded into a political and sectarian war, known as the Troubles.
The three decades of ensuing violence between the IRA and loyalists claimed the lives of more than 3,000 people, most of them north of the border, and while the Good Friday Agreement effectively ended the conflict, suspicions remain, and for this reason the queen’s state visit is more than symbolic. Under the terms of the landmark accord, terrorist groups on both sides dumped their weapons, and political allies of both sides now work together in Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government.
Gerry Adams: unique opportunity for mutual respect and equality
No Sinn Féin representative will attend any of the various official functions surrounding the visit but Gerry Adams has taken a far more conciliatory approach, the Guardian comments. “I want to see a real and meaningfully new and better relationship between the peoples of Ireland and Britain”. Adams maintained that the visit was troubling for many people and found suggestions that the state visit was an indication that Irish people had matured insulting and patronising. In March, the Sinn Féin president had described the visit as premature.