The Irish Times - Saturday, May 21, 2011

Queen's visit beat all expectations, says UK envoy

MARK HENNESSY and BARRY ROCHE

THE SUCCESSFUL four-day visit by Queen Elizabeth II to Ireland, which finished yesterday with extraordinarily warm scenes in Cork, will lead to the “building of a whole new approach” in relations between Ireland and the United Kingdom, the British government has said.

Following the warm reception in the English Market in Cork, security around the Queen, which had been tight throughout the four days, was relaxed, permitting her to meet members of the public on the city’s Grand Parade.

Speaking as the Queen departed from Cork Airport for London, British ambassador to Ireland Julian King expressed delight at the success of the visit: “It has gone really, really well. We hoped it would go well but I think it has gone better than we had hoped.

“We have been touched by the warmth of the welcome everywhere, but the warmth of the welcome here in Cork has been exceptional. It will take a little time to settle in, but we will find out as people reflect over what has happened over the past few days.

“We have a set of images that have gone all around the world and indeed Her Majesty’s own words that are going to make a major contribution to the relations between Britain and Ireland,” he said.

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip arrived in Cork after visiting the Rock of Cashel, where the Queen was greeted by Sinn Féin chairman of Cashel Town Council, Cllr Michael Browne. This was the first time she had been greeted by a Sinn Féin representative anywhere on the island.

The remarkable success of the visit is likely to be seized upon by the Government over coming months, as it seeks to boost Irish exports and British tourist numbers to Ireland.

In particular, the Government wants to capitalise on the broadly positive British media coverage of the visit. In one broadcast, the BBC said Queen Elizabeth had departed from Ireland “having left her mark on a once-hostile land. Anglo-Irish relations have been rejuvenated. The grip of the past loosened”.

Speaking after the Queen’s departure, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said: “At the bottom of the steps, I said: ‘Your Majesty, would you like to come back again sometime?’ And she said: ‘Yes, I would very much like to do that.’ So maybe at sometime in the future.”

Cork-based Minister of State Kathleen Lynch said the greatest benefit from the visit would be felt by the Irish community living in Britain, who, she said, had “lived for 30 years in the shadows of the Troubles”.

The visit was not about “a doffing of the cap or a bending of the knee”, she said, but, rather, was a demonstration of the increasingly warm and friendly relations existing between equals. “People are happy, not just with the Queen’s performance but also with our performance. Britain is our nearest neighbour, home to most of our emigrants, our biggest trading partner. Up until now, we couldn’t do this. Today I think we have moved on, and that’s very welcome.”

Former SDLP leader John Hume said the visit had had “a transformative” impact on Anglo-Irish relations, while the Queen’s decision to speak a few words of Irish at Wednesday night’s State dinner in Dublin Castle was “a very positive sign of her friendship”.

“In the past, it was a very different picture altogether but it is another very positive step in developing strongly the peaceful relationships between the peoples of both islands,” he said .

“I’m quite sure the people of both islands will certainly hope that will remain the case for the future.”

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said the Queen’s visit had marked a new level of respect between the two states. He said the visit had offered an opportunity not only to reflect on the past, but also to look forward “to the kind of relationship we can have in the future”.

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