Queen to make historic Ireland visit

4th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

Queen Elizabeth II will visit Ireland this year, her office announced Friday, making her the first British monarch to make a state visit to the country since it gained independence in 1922.

"The Queen has been pleased to accept an invitation from the president of Ireland to pay a state visit to Ireland this year. The Queen will be accompanied by The Duke of Edinburgh," said a statement from Buckingham Palace.

The last visit to Ireland by a reigning British monarch was by the 84-year-old queen's grandfather, King George V, in 1911, a decade before Ireland won independence from Britain.

In a statement from Dublin, the Irish government welcomed confirmation of the visit, saying it "will mark a further improvement in the very good relations between Ireland and the United Kingdom".

Further details, including dates and venues, will be issued later but media reports suggest the visit will take place in May.

British Ambassador to Ireland Julian King welcomed the visit, saying it "symbolises how far the relationship has come in recent years", in particular the strength of bilateral economic and political ties.

"The visit will provide an excellent opportunity to celebrate this, and build on the rich and varied links that exist across these islands," he said.

Britain's relationship with Ireland has never been closer, or more important, he said.

"Our common bonds enable the UK and Ireland to work together as a strong, modern, forward-looking partnership focused on issues that matter to the British and Irish people, such as growth and jobs," he said.

In recent years, other members of the British royal family have visited Ireland, including the Queen's husband Prince Philip, also known as the Duke of Edinburgh, and the heir to the throne, Prince Charles.

But the state visit by the monarch remained elusive amid continued strains between the two countries, particularly over Northern Ireland, which remained part of Britain when the southern part gained independence.

Ties improved markedly during peace talks in Northern Ireland, which led to the landmark Good Friday agreement in 1998. Facilitated by the Irish and British governments, the deal largely ended decades of violence.

Ireland's president, Belfast-born Mary McAleese has strongly supported the prospect of a visit by the Queen.

And the outgoing taoiseach, or prime minister, Brian Cowen said during a visit to London last June that he wanted it to take place before McAleese leaves office in November.

The former president, Mary Robinson, was the first Irish head of state to meet the Queen when she had tea with her in Buckingham Palace in June 1996.

© 2011 AFP

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