Queen expresses 'deep sympathy' for victims in Ireland

19th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

Queen Elizabeth II expressed regret and "deep sympathy" to the victims of Britain and Ireland's turbulent shared history in a speech seen as setting a new tone in relations between the two countries.

Although the queen stopped short of a full apology for Britain's actions when it ruled Ireland, she said it was "impossible to ignore the weight of history", while those who lost their lives could never be forgotten.

Speaking at Dublin Castle, the former seat of British colonial power, on Wednesday night, she said: "With the benefit of historical hindsight we can all see things which we would wish had been done differently or not at all."

The queen's words add to the theme of reconciliation forged on an historic four-day visit in which she has laid wreaths to the victims of Ireland's independence struggle and visited the site of a massacre by British troops.

"It is a sad and regrettable reality that through history our islands have experienced more than their fair share of heartache, turbulence and loss," she said.

"These events have touched us all, many of us personally, and are a painful legacy. We can never forget those who have died or been injured, and their families.

"To all those who have suffered as a consequence of our troubled past I extend my sincere thoughts and deep sympathy."

British newspapers hailed the speech, with The Times saying it would "help to define Anglo-Irish relations for years to come", and said it came "as close as anyone could have dared hope to apologising".

The speech was also well received in Ireland, although it came too late for newspaper editorials. Commentators have already praised the symbolism and significance of the wreath-laying ceremony earlier in the visit -- ceremonies that would have been unthinkable until recently.

As the queen is a non-political figure with little formal power over her governments, it is not properly within her role to deliver apologies, but her remarks were effectively as close as she could go.

Irish President Mary McAleese said the first visit by a British sovereign to the republic since it won independence from London in 1922 was the "culmination of the success of the peace process", building on the 1998 Northern Irish peace accords.

"It is an acknowledgement that while we cannot change the past, we have chosen to change the future," she said in a speech.

The banquet came after the queen visited Dublin's Croke Park stadium, where British forces killed 14 people in 1920 in a reprisal attack as Ireland's independence struggle raged.

For many Irish citizens, pictures of the British monarch at such a bastion of Irish freedom were the most powerful symbol of reconciliation.

The queen also laid a wreath at the Irish National War Memorial Garden to honour the 49,400 Irish soldiers killed fighting for Britain in World War I.

They were ignored for decades due to deep unease over them serving in British uniform during the independence struggle.

Following two highly-charged days, Thursday's programme was lighter, with a visit to the National Stud in Kildare, southwest of Dublin.

The queen takes a deep interest in horses and still rides at 85, and is likely to be in her element as she tours the National Stud, which promotes Irish bloodstock and services to breeders.

In the evening, the British embassy was to host its own celebration of the queen's state visit.

Some 2,000 guests will be treated to a show of British and Irish fashion, Irish dancing and singing and actors giving readings from key Irish literary works.

Ireland has mounted the biggest security operation in its history with 10,000 police and troops guarding the queen, with the public largely kept at a distance due to the threat from dissident republicans violently opposed to the peace process.

© 2011 AFP

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