Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Higgins to address UK Parliament

President Michael D Higgins is due to visit Britain

Michael D Higgins will address Britain's Houses of Parliament next month on the first state visit by an Irish president.

Mr Higgins, who will travel with his wife Sabina and the foreign affairs minister and deputy prime minister, Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore, will also pay tribute to war dead at a special ceremony at Westminster Abbey on the first day of the trip on Tuesday April 8.

The visit will begin with the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall greeting the party at the Irish embassy in London before they meet the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh at the Royal Dais in Datchet Road, Windsor, and travel by horse-drawn carriage together for a ceremonial welcome at the castle.

The visit lasts from April 8 to 11 and Mr Higgins will stay at Windsor as a guest of the Queen.

Although the trip is not the first time an Irish head of state has visited Britain and undertaken special engagements, it is the first time the trip by an Irish president has been recognised as an official state visit.

One of Mr Higgins's first engagements will be to deliver an address to the Houses of Parliament ahead of a reception with all-party groups and a courtesy call from Labour leader Ed Miliband and a state banquet on the first night of the trip.

Mr Higgins, a member of the Labour Party until he became President, will have a lunch meeting with Prime Minister David Cameron in Downing Street on day two of the visit.

The programme for the Wednesday will also see Mr Higgins and his wife visit University College London Hospital on Euston Road to meet patients and Irish staff members, past and present, who have made an important contribution to the National Health Service.

The President will also have an opportunity that day to view the colours of the disbanded Irish Regiments, held in Windsor Castle since 1922.

He will also visit the Royal Society where he will view an exhibition of items related to Ireland and make an address on the importance of scientific and technological co-operation between Ireland and Britain.

Ms Higgins will carry out some engagements alone, including a visit to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and a lunch meeting at the Irish embassy focusing on Irish fashion and design.

The second day will close with a courtesy call from Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg and a banquet hosted by the Lord Mayor of the City of London, alderman Fiona Woolf, and the City of London Corporation at Guildhall where the President will address 700 invited guests.

Thursday's schedule includes a food industry event and a trip to Park House Stables in Kingsclere, Hampshire, to reflect the strong links between Ireland and Britain in the equine world and an opportunity for the couple to meet trainers, jockeys and other staff at the stables and visit the tack room, the yard and the training areas.

That evening the Queen will host a Northern Ireland-themed reception in Windsor Castle ahead of the President and Ms Higgins attending a Ceiliuradh celebration of Irish music, song, dance and poetry at the Royal Albert Hall. The trip will be rounded off on the Friday with a farewell from the Queen and Philip at Windsor Castle.

Later that morning the President will visit the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon for a tour of the building and a short performance before meeting actors and visiting Shakespeare's birthplace.

Engagements conclude in the afternoon with a trip to Coventry Cathedral and a tour of the ruins of the old cathedral, which was destroyed in the Second World War, ahead of a reception for members of the Irish community at St Mary's Guildhall, and an address by the President.

Other events in the programme include a youth workshop at City Hall by people taking part in Gaisce - the President's Award and the Duke of Edinburgh's Awards; the President's Being Young and Irish initiative; the British Youth Council; and Irish community groups in Britain.

Mr Higgins will also meet mayor of London Boris Johnson.

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