Belfast Telegraph

Why Dublin is risking a right royal shambles

If the Queen can't be extended the same dignified visit afforded other heads of state, then politicians should call the whole thing off, argues Mary Kenny

When Brian Cowen issued a formal invitation to David Cameron, in June, that the Queen should pay a state visit to the Republic next year, the mandarins in Dublin's Department of Foreign Affairs were duly satisfied.

This is something that has been in the offing since at least 1996, when President Mary Robinson paid an official visit to the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

It wasn't her first visit - she had tea at Buckingham Palace in 1993 - but it was a first official occasion. And ever since then, the civil servants and diplomatic services have been planning a return visit of the Queen to Dublin.

They are supported, in the main, by the political class, but not wholly so. Politicians do what is useful to them and the issue may not have any great resonance in Ballyjamesduff, say, where jobs might, understandably, be more of a priority.

And what do most people think? There is a dichotomy here.

On the one hand, the British Ambassador to the Republic, Julian King, is overwhelmed by invitations from small towns across the country for the Queen to come to them, since such appearances always enhance business and revenue. Is this just a commercial motive?

The question was asked before, when Queen Victoria came to Ireland in the 19th Century - the great Fenian John Mitchel was astonished by the Cead Mile Failte accorded to her in the middle of a troubled century.

He, at first, supposed that those welcoming Victoria were self-interested folk in the pay of the Crown, or whose jobs depended on Royal patronage. But he was too honest a man to be satisfied with this analysis. He concluded that it was deep within the Irish people to be welcoming - people just wanted to act in a warm-hearted way.

And that, I believe, remains and endures. It is the natural condition of the culture.

But there is also the other side of the dichotomy: concern about the cost of such a visit, which is reckoned to be in the region of £6.5m - not a huge amount, by the standards of Irish bank bailouts, or even in comparison to the forthcoming three-day Papal visit to Britain, which will cost at least £20m.

There is an even greater concern: that receiving the Queen involves 'kow-towing' to an 'undemocratic' institution like a monarchy, although no such objections were made when other monarchical heads of state have visited this country.

There are also Irish citizens who simply harbour political objections to this state visit. They do not accept that there has been a peace accord over Northern Ireland and an ongoing devolutionary work in progress - they still see the Crown as an agency of partition.

There are Irish people alive today, in the words of one newspaper correspondent, "whose fathers and mothers, aunts and uncles, grandfathers and grandmothers were battered, bruised and humiliated by the Black and Tans" and do not want their government issuing such an invitation to the symbol and epitome of the Crown.

In sum, there are Irish people - perhaps 10% of the country and possibly more - who really do not want the red carpet laid out for a state visit by the monarch of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland.

They feel it is not justified. They feel it is a useless expense. They feel there is unfinished business with the North.

And even if it is a minority who form this opposition, aren't their objections valid and aren't they entitled to make them known? Yes, I would say, most definitely. Indeed, I think the Dublin government should take these hostile views of the planned state visit very seriously and address them openly.

What the government is concerned about is ensuring that, if and when the visit does take place, it will be accompanied by faultless security, so that no freelance activist from the Real or Continuity IRA gets to take a pot shot at the British Head of State.

So security is at present uppermost, and likely to be so tight that there will be little opportunity to exercise the genuine Cead Mile Failte which many people would want to extend.

But besides security, shouldn't there also be more public information, or at least open public discussion about this proposed visit? If the government wants it to be a success, there will need to be more open political support for the enterprise.

Unless and until the politicians make some positive commitment themselves, it's a visit planned at half-cock, and likely to go off at half-cock.

I would say, if it isn't going to be done properly, then call the whole thing off.

Address the problems and complaints aroused by the prospect of the visit. If it is to be done, do it with commitment and zest.

Otherwise, admit that it is not worth doing at all.

Mary Kenny is the author of Crown and Shamrock: Love and Hate Between Ireland and the British Monarchy (New Island Books, £17.99)

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