Queen begins historic Ireland visit

17th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

Queen Elizabeth II arrived in Dublin Tuesday for the first visit by a British monarch to the Irish Republic as the discovery of a bomb near the capital underscored the threat posed by republican hardliners.

The queen touched down at Casement Aerodrome -- named after an Irish revolutionary executed by the British -- for a landmark four-day trip surrounded by the biggest ever security operation mounted by the republic.

Wearing an emerald green coat and hat, the 85-year-old queen emerged from the royal jet followed by her husband Prince Philip to be greeted by an Irish military guard of honour.

She is the first British sovereign to visit Ireland since it won independence from Britain in 1922, while the last monarch to come to the country was King George V, the queen's grandfather, in 1911.

"This is an historic and symbolic visit and it is dealing with the conclusion of the past and a message for the future," Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny said.

The neighbouring states have hailed the visit as a historic sign of the progress made after the hard-won peace in British-ruled Northern Ireland but there were a string of security alerts in the hours before the royals arrived.

Irish army bomb disposal experts defused a "viable explosive device" on a bus in Maynooth near Dublin overnight after a tip-off from an anonymous caller, officials said.

Around 30 passengers were reportedly evacuated from the bus, which was heading for the capital from western Ireland, after the pipe bomb was found in the luggage compartment.

There were also two false alarms as troops carried out a controlled explosion on a suspicious package found on Dublin's light railway system on Tuesday and investigated an apparent hoax device in the city on Monday.

The incidents came after dissident paramilitaries made a coded bomb threat in central London on Monday, the first of its kind outside Northern Ireland for 10 years.

There has been a recent rise in violence in Northern Ireland and opposition to the queen's visit persists among a violent hardcore of republicans, who want the province to become part of the Republic.

Around 10,000 security forces are being deployed at an estimated cost of 30 million euros ($42 million), with reports saying the navy will be deployed off the Dublin coast to prevent a possible missile strike from the sea.

Central Dublin traffic was heavily affected by the security cordons, with the main O'Connell Street closed off.

Police in high-visibility jackets manned the barriers, screening the bags of those workers with a permit to go to the shops and businesses inside the security cordon.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said the visit showed the strong links between the two countries, especially during the economic crisis.

"I believe Her Majesty's visit will be the start of something big," he said.

The weight of history will still lie heavy on the visit.

The Casement Aerodrome southwest of the capital where the royals arrived is named after Roger Casement, an Irish nationalist executed for treason by the British in 1916.

The royals' first port of call is the Aras an Uachtarain, President Mary McAleese's official residence, for a ceremonial welcome.

The Aras dates back to 1751 and used to house the viceroys who oversaw British rule in Ireland. Queen Victoria and George V stayed there.

Following talks, the queen and the president head straight for one of the most sensitive moments of the trip -- a visit to the Garden of Remembrance, dedicated to "all those who gave their lives in the cause of Irish freedom".

Both McAleese and Queen Elizabeth will lay wreaths and the national anthems of both states will be played. Republican demonstrators will be kept far from the scene.

The couple's final engagement Tuesday will be to visit Trinity College, one of Europe's finest universities, where they will view the Book of Kells, a ninth century gospel manuscript.

Doctor Patrick Geoghegan, a history lecturer at Trinity College, said inviting the queen was a statement of Ireland's confidence in both its independence and its relationship with Britain.

"They are our closest trading partner, they are our neighbours who helped us out during the recent IMF (International Monetary Fund) bailout, and we rely so much, for trade and for tourism, on the United Kingdom," he told AFP.

© 2011 AFP

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