By John P Brady
It was one hundred years since the last visit of a British monarch to Ireland and the first since Ireland became recognized as a sovereign state. Queen Elizabeth II has spent four days on a state visit in the Republic of Ireland enjoying the “céad míle fáilte.” Was this visit premature or does it represent a positive step in Anglo-Irish relations?
It is 13 years on from the Good Friday Agreement and Northern Ireland has enjoyed a period of political progress. This has come about through strong effort and concessions on both sides of the Nationalist (Irish) and Unionist (British) political divide. Nationalist aims of a United Ireland will not change and would best be served by positive political interaction. So, as we find ourselves as an island in a period of relative peace, Britain’s head of state was able to visit without any major protests.
The political landscape has leveled greatly as have general living conditions for people of both political beliefs. Hopefully we will continue to see a peaceful and diplomatic pursuit of goals by the citizens of the region. A terrible fatigue has been produced by the decades of violence and few will wish to see tanks on the streets again. A positive relationship with our neighbors is important to Ireland as 45% of our tourism comes from Britain.
Taoiseach, Enda Kenny said that the vast majority of people in Ireland would welcome a visit by the queen. However a radio station in Cork polled 500 people with two-thirds saying she was not welcome.
Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Fein, in an article for the Irish Examiner, said that any insinuation that Irish people “have matured” or “finally grown up” are deeply patronizing and insulting, in the wake of years of oppression and occupation. He went on to say that he is opposed to monarchies in general.
Eamon Gilmore, Tánaiste and leader of the Labour Party who are in government with Fine Gael, described the visit as “very historic and symbolic.”
Peter Robinson of the Democratic Unionist Party and first minister of the Northern Ireland assembly, said on his website that the visit is “a sign of the normalization of relations between our two countries”. He added: “It is not necessary to agree with the institution of monarchy to show respect.”
While generally the situation in Northern Ireland has improved greatly since the Good Friday agreement and the resulting power sharing government, divisions still remain. These must be handled carefully. This is perhaps the most important issue. A poor reception for the queen would have resulted in the widening of these divides instead of narrowing them. This would have been a huge mistake.
These are different times and Irish people have put much behind them, instead focusing on the future. It is hoped that the same is true of the English people who have endured so much on their own shores. Many Irish live and work in England and wish to build a lasting relationship of tolerance and respect with the British.
Reasons why this visit is a good idea mostly focus on benefits that may accrue through tourism. The visit of Queen Victoria in 1861 to the sublime Lakes of Killarney helped drawn attention to County Kerry as a tourist destination. If an influx of tourists arrived as a result of the visit this would be a beneficial boost to Ireland’s economy.
It is difficult to measure the benefits a visit might have towards political relations between the countries, as politicians in Dublin and in London have already enjoyed good relations for a number of years. Former Irish and British leaders, Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair were seen to be on the finest of terms during their long terms in office. The real issue here is the relations between the inhabitants of both islands. This is what needs to benefit from the visit and hopes are that it will.
The political landscape of Northern Ireland has changed immeasurably and continues to improve with both sides working together and beginning to achieve social and economic consensus. A few years ago this was not possible. The visit does present hope for the “normalization” of relations between the countries and will be seen as a sign of mutual respect. Few things are more important to Irish people than respect for our sovereignty as a nation.
John P Brady is a freelance writer based in Dublin, Ireland. He welcomes work enquires and comments at www.johnpbrady.com
Back to the Gaff
Scandalous Narratives of Contemporary Ireland
Back to the Gaff is a book by new author John P Brady, which describes the excessive and outrageous nature of Irish night life. Meet an array of eccentric individuals who populate the bars of Dublin, living lives of decadence and abandon. Their frolics inevitably lead to a trip ‘back to the gaff,’ which in Dublin-speak means gravitating towards someone’s place of residence where the depravity continues.
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