Queen on historic Ireland visit

17th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

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

Sporting a coat and hat in the emerald green of her hosts, the queen landed at a military airbase for a landmark four-day state visit surrounded by the biggest ever security operation mounted by the republic.

The 85-year-old and her husband Prince Philip were whisked through the specially cleared streets with a 33-motorcycle escort to the residence of President Mary McAleese, who greeted them with a 21-gun salute.

The queen 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.

"I think it is an extraordinary moment in Irish history, a phenomenal sign and signal of the success of the peace process and absolutely the right moment for us to welcome (the queen) onto Irish soil," McAleese told RTE television.

The neighbouring states have hailed the visit as a sign of the progress made in Anglo-Irish relations after the hard-won peace in British-ruled Northern Ireland following the 1998 Good Friday accord.

But a string of security alerts jangled nerves in Dublin, amid a recent rise in violence in Northern Ireland blamed on a dissident republicans who oppose the peace process and want the province to join the Republic.

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 at least seven false alarms including controlled explosions on suspicious packages found on Dublin's light railway system and in a Dublin park.

On Monday dissidents also made a coded bomb threat in London, the first outside Northern Ireland for 10 years.

Meanwhile dozens of protesters torched the flags of Britain and Northern Ireland near the Garden of Remembrance -- a memorial to those who died fighting for independence -- where the queen will head later Tuesday in one the most sensitive moments of the trip.

The protesters carried banners from various groups, including Sinn Fein, the political wing of the now-defunct Irish Republican Army (IRA), and the hardline republican 32 County Sovreignty Movement.

Around 10,000 Irish security forces are being deployed at an estimated cost of 30 million euros ($42 million).

Police in high-visibility jackets manned cordons which closed off parts of central Dublin, while access to the queen's itinerary will be heavily restricted.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said the queen's trip showed the strong ties with Ireland, which received a loan from London to stave off bankruptcy last year.

"I believe Her Majesty's visit will be the start of something big," said Cameron, who will also visit Ireland this week.

Yet the weight of history will still lie heavy on the visit, which follows years of negotiations between London and Dublin.

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.

Aras an Uachtarain, the Irish president's official residence, dates back to 1751 and used to house the viceroys who oversaw British rule in Ireland. Queen Victoria and George V stayed there.

At the Garden of Remembrance, both McAleese and Queen Elizabeth will lay wreaths and the national anthems of both states will be played.

In a further gesture of reconciliation, the queen on Wednesday visits Croke Park stadium, where in 1920 British forces shot dead 14 people.

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

© 2011 AFP

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