Editor's Viewpoint: Royal welcome heralds a new era
The State Visit to the Irish Republic by the Queen and Prince Philip this week will be of immense significance.
It will mark an historic watershed in the history of the United Kingdom and Ireland, and it will be seen as the healing balm on the wounds of a chequered history for both countries.
The visit will be the first since that of King George V and Queen Mary in 1911. They were given a warm reception but shortly afterwards the political and social landscape changed utterly.
The outbreak of the First World War and the momentum towards Irish independence led to partition. Consequently the repeated Troubles ruled out a Royal visit to Ireland, not least for security reasons.
This week's visit by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh will underline how much has changed for the better in recent years. The Good Friday Agreement, and the slow but sure peace process in the north, have made the time ripe for such a visit.
Much credit is due to successive politicians, community leaders and well-placed individuals for paving the way for such a development.
Particular credit is due to the Irish heads of State, President Mary Robinson and President Mary McAleese, who forged good personal relationships with the Queen. The visit is also a fitting climax to the presidency of Mary McAleese, who, with her husband Dr Martin McAleese, has done much to help heal the wounds on this island.
The Taoiseach Enda Kenny has rightly said that this week's visit will mark the start of a new era, and the programme chosen by the Queen reflects the sensitivities involved. She will attend events at the National War Memorial Gardens and also at Croke Park stadium, as well as Trinity College in Dublin - all of which are such an integral part of Irish history.
The visit is taking place at a time of continued dissident violence and the utmost security will be required at all times. It is clear, however, that the dissidents do not speak for the vast majority of the people of Ireland who will give the Royal couple a warm welcome.
Significantly, Sinn Fein have chosen to take a measured approach. While they have claimed that the timing of the visit is not "appropriate" they have not made political capital out of the situation. This displays a growing maturity which is now evident in the political process in general.
Many people here and in the rest of the United Kingdom, including those with Irish roots, will also follow this visit with great interest.
The Queen is a major international figure who is widely respected in her own right, and it will be a truly historic occasion.
Most important of all, her visit to Ireland with Prince Philip will close a chapter on a troubled past, and open a new chapter that will help both nations and their people to work jointly towards a better future for everyone. It should be welcomed by all.