THE Queen is to pay a state visit to Ireland – the first official tour of the republic by a British monarch.
Buckingham Palace said last night: “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.”
A date for the visit was not released but it is widely expected to be in May.
The Queen will be following in the footsteps of her grandfather George V, who travelled to the country in 1911, before independence.
The bitterness caused by the partition of the island a decade later and the use of the British Army in the Troubles in Northern Ireland strained relations between the UK and the Irish Republic for much of the 20th century.
The success of the peace process in Northern Ireland has greatly eased tensions and a visit by the Queen would be seen by many as cementing a closer relationship.
The Irish government said it welcomed the imminent trip.
“The visit will mark a further improvement in the very good relations between Ireland and the United Kingdom,” it said in a statement.
Irish President Mary McAleese had previously revealed her wish for an historic royal visit.
After a meeting with Prime Minister David Cameron in London last June, the-then Taoiseach Brian Cowen said he wanted to see the official engagement before Ms McAleese leaves office after a second seven-year term in November.
Mr Cowen had said a state visit by the Queen and a return trip to Britain by an Irish President would be part of the normal courtesies enjoyed by friendly, neighbouring states.
The British Ambassador to Ireland Julian King said both the Queen and Prince Philip were very much looking forward to the visit.
“The invitation symbolises how far the relationship has come in recent years; the strength of our economic and political ties; and the progress that has been made in Northern Ireland,” he said.
“The visit will provide an excellent opportunity to celebrate this, and build on the rich and varied links that exist across these islands.”
Mr King said the UK’s relationship with Ireland had never been closer, or more important.
“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.
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said the party believed the visit was premature but it was an indication that times had changed.
“As Republicans Sinn Fein is very aware of the symbolism of a state visit by Queen Elizabeth of England and of the offence it will cause to many Irish citizens, particularly victims of British rule and those with legacy issues in this state and in the North,” Mr Adams said. “We are also very conscious of the attitude of our Unionist neighbours.”
Mr Adams said the party was in favour of the normalisation of relationships between Ireland and the UK.
“This will require the ending of the partition of Ireland and the ability of all the people of this island to shape our own society free from outside interference.
“The Good Friday Agreement provides for this and the process to achieve it is an ongoing focus for Sinn Fein.”
Sinn Fein respected the right of Ms McAleese to make the invitation, he said.