A sumptuous banquet in Windsor Castle near London rounded-off day one of the first ever state visit to the UK by an Irish president.
Michael D.Higgins was welcomed by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II. The deputy first minister of Northern Ireland – one time Irish Republican Army chief – Martin McGuinness has also been included in events in a sign of how far relations between the two countries have progressed.
Clashes over British-ruled Northern Ireland saw more than 3,600 people killed from the 1960s onward until a 1998 peace deal largely ended the conflict between Catholic groups wanting the province to become part of the Irish republic and Protestant groups wanted to keep it within the UK.
At the banquet Queen Elizabeth stressed the newly found friendship after decades of fraught relations:
“We the Irish and the British are becoming good and dependable neighbours and better friends. There is today no closer working relationship for my government than that with Ireland.”
Earlier President Higgins had addressed both houses of Britain’s parliament referring to a time when London had ruled over Dublin.
“The pain and sacrifice associated with the advent of Irish independence inevitably casts its long shadow across our relations. We acknowledge that past but, even more, we wholeheartedly welcome the considerable achievement of today’s reality – the mutual respect, friendship and co-operation which exists between our two countries,” said the president to an audience of MPs which included British government and party leaders.
Queen Elizabeth visited Ireland in 2011. It was the first trip by a British monarch to the Irish Republic since Dublin won independence in 1921.
President Higgins is expected to hold talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron later today.