Belfast Telegraph

Martin McGuinness toasts the Queen at historic state banquet for Irish President Michael D Higgins

By Claire Cromie and Catherine Wylie

Martin McGuinness has stood and joined in a toast to the Queen, proposed by Irish President Michael D Higgins, as an orchestra played God Save The Queen at an historic State banquet.

The banquet was held at Windsor Castle in honour of Irish President Michael D Higgins, and was made all the more significant due to the presence of Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Mr McGuinness - a move unthinkable only a decade ago for the ex-IRA commander.

In her speech, in front of the political elite and stars including Daniel Day-Lewis, Dame Judi Dench and Irish rugby hero Brian O'Driscoll, the Queen said Britain and Ireland shall "no longer allow our past to ensnare our future".

She said: "It is that we, who inhabit these islands, should live together as neighbours and friends. Respectful of each other's nationhood, sovereignty and traditions.

"Cooperating to our mutual benefit. At ease in each other's company.

"After so much chequered history, the avoidable and regrettable pain of which is still felt by many of us, this goal is now within reach.

"I started by speaking of ten centuries of history. But there is a balance to be struck between looking back at what has happened, and cannot be changed; and looking forward to what could happen, if we have the will and determination to shape it.

"My visit to Ireland, and your visit this week, Mr President, show that we are walking together towards a brighter, more settled future.

"We will remember our past, but we shall no longer allow our past to ensnare our future. This is the greatest gift we can give to succeeding generations."

The Queen also made a witty reference to her famous appearance in the London 2012 opening ceremony, saying: "And it took someone of Irish descent, Danny Boyle, to get me to jump from a helicopter."

The Queen's banquet speech for the state visit of Irish President Michael Higgins: In full 

The Queen shook hands with all the guests at the banquet, including Mr McGuinness.

The highly successful state visit to Ireland by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh in May 2011 paved the way for the return by President Higgins and makes the attendance of Mr McGuinness at the royals' home, the latest in a series of recent milestones in Anglo-Irish relations.

Just hours before the banquet the sister of a woman killed in the Birmingham pub bombings called for the arrest of Mr McGuinness.

Julie Hambleton, whose 18-year-old sister Maxine died in the atrocity, was taking part in a small demonstration outside Windsor Castle calling for justice for the victims of the bombings.

Ms Hambleton expressed anger at the British establishment for giving "permission" to Mr McGuinness to "come on to the mainland", adding: "By rights he should be arrested. He's got so much blood on his hands."

She described his attendance at the event as "the epitome of hypocrisy".

Mr McGuinness was seated next to President of the Royal Society Sir Paul Nurse and Director of Liberty Shami Chakrabarti.

The Queen said she and the Duke recall their visit to Ireland "with great pleasure" and said they were left with a "happy and enduring impression".

ROYAL Irel_118.jpg
Queen Elizabeth II and the Duchess of Cornwall (4th left) attend a State Banquet in honour of the President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins (5th left) at Windsor Castle during the first State visit to the UK by an Irish President.

In his speech, which featured a few words of Irish, President Higgins made reference to the Queen's historic visit to Ireland, in which she "admirably" did not "shy away from the shadows of the past".

He said: "Your gracious and genuine curiosity, your evident delight in that visit, including its equine dimension, made it very easy for us to express to you and, through you to the British people, the warmth of neighbourly feelings.

"It laid the basis for an authentic and ethical hospitality between our two countries. "Admirably, you chose not to shy away from the shadows of the past, recognising that they cannot be ignored when we consider the relationship between our islands."

President Higgins said her "apt and considered words when you addressed some of the painful moments of our mutual history" were valued.

He said people were "moved" by the Queen's gestures of respect at sites of national historical significance in Ireland. "These memorable moments and these moving words merit our appreciation and, even more, our reciprocity.

"While the past must be respectfully recognised, it must not imperil the potential of the present or the possibilities of the future - ar feidireachtai gan teorainn - our endless possibilities working together," he said.

President Higgins described his visit as "a very visible sign of the warmth and maturity of the relationship between our two countries".

Adding: "It is something to be truly welcomed and celebrated."

He said Ireland and Britain "live in both the shadow and in the shelter of one another, and so it has been since the dawn of history".

He added: "Through conquest and resistance, we have cast shadows on each other, but we have also gained strength from one another as neighbours and, most especially, from the contribution of those who have travelled between our islands in recent decades."

Irish President Michael D Higgins's toast at the Queen's state banquet: In full 

Like the Queen, President Higgins made reference to the "extensive" contribution of Irish men and Irish women to life in Britain. He said: "It runs from building canals, roads and bridges in previous decades, to running major companies in the present, all the while pouring Irish personality and imagination into the English language and its literature."

The Queen acknowledged the "discrimination and a lack of appreciation" once faced by Irish people in Britain.

Adding: "Happily, those days are now behind us, and it is widely recognised that Britain is a better place because of the Irish people who live here."

The Queen also made reference to the peace process in Northern Ireland.

"Our two governments will continue to work together in Northern Ireland to support the First and Deputy First Minister and the Executive to advance the peace process and to establish a shared society based on mutual respect and equality of opportunity," she said.

The Queen was wearing the official Diamond Jubilee white silk and lace dress designed by Angela kelly, and the Grand Duchess Vladimir of Russia Tiara which has droplets of emeralds.

In the splendour of Saint George's Hall, Hollywood stars Day-Lewis and Dame Judi, rugby legend O'Driscoll and his actress wife Amy Huberman, hat designer Philip Treacy, sculptor Sir Antony Gormley, and Sir Terry Wogan sat around a polished table set for 160 guests.

The Queen sat to the left of President Higgins and the Duchess of Cornwall sat on his right hand side.

Prime Minister David Cameron and his wife Samantha, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Labour leader Ed Miliband were also in attendance, with the First Minister of Northern Ireland Peter Robinson, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers.

Other members of the royal family at the banquet include the Prince of Wales who is sitting next to President Higgins' wife Sabina, and the Duke of Edinburgh is sitting on her other side.

Former Irish President Mary McAleese is also at the banquet. Nearing the end of his speech, President Higgins said: "The shadow of the past has become the shelter of the present.

"While we grieve together for lost lives, we will not let any painful aspect of our shared history deflect us from crafting a future that offers hope and opportunity for the British and Irish people."

President Higgins invited guests to stand and join him in a toast to the health and happiness of the Queen and Prince Philip and the people of the UK.

Mr McGuinness stood up and participated in the toast as the orchestra played God Save The Queen.

Earlier in the day, President Higgins bowed his head in a mark of respect at a plaque in memory of the Queen's cousin Lord Mountbatten in Westminster Abbey, assassinated by the IRA on holidays in Ireland in 1979. The President was there to pay respects at the tomb of the unknown warrior.

Michael D Higgins says Britain and Ireland must take pride in Northern Ireland peace

By Ed Carty and David Hughes

Irish President Michael D Higgins has said Britain and Ireland must take pride in the peace that has been built in Northern Ireland.

In a historic address to the Houses of Parliament - the first time Ireland's head of state has been given the honour - he hailed the transformation of relations between Britain and Ireland, from a period of doubt to trust and mutual respect.

"Our two countries can take immense pride in the progress of the cause of peace in Northern Ireland," said Mr Higgins.

"There is of course still a road to be travelled - the road of a lasting and creative reconciliation - and our two governments have a shared responsibility to encourage and support those who need to complete the journey of making peace permanent and constructive."

Mr Higgins recalled the old ghosts of Irish nationalism, from 18th century emancipator Daniel O'Connell MP to the Home Rule bid to Irish freedom fighter and abstentionist MP Constance Markiewicz - the first woman elected to Westminster in 1918.

He said O'Connell's ideals helped to guide and influence the achievement of the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.

"That achievement was founded on the cornerstones of equality, justice and democratic partnership, and was a key milestone on the road to today's warm, deep and enduring Irish-British friendship," he said.

He said the two countries now have a closeness that once seemed unachievable.

"I am conscious that I am in the company here of many distinguished parliamentarians who have made their own individual contributions to the journey we have travelled together," he said.

"I acknowledge them and I salute them, as I acknowledge and salute all those who have selflessly worked to build concord between our peoples. I celebrate our warm friendship and I look forward with confidence to a future in which that friendship can grow even more resolute and more productive."

In a wide-ranging speech, President Higgins touched on many of the themes which his four-day official state visit to Britain will explore, including emigration and shared history.

The significance of the President's visit is further deepened by the invitation for him to stay at the Queen's home, Windsor Castle, where a state banquet is being held in his honour tonight and the presence of Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister and ex-IRA commander Martin McGuinness at the royal dinner - a move unthinkable only a decade ago.

The President, who is a poet, academic, intellect, human rights activist and football fan, addressed peers and MPs in Parliament's Royal Gallery, flanked by floral displays in green, white and orange.

Prime Minister David Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Labour leader Ed Miliband were in the audience.

Also among the MPs watching the address were Sinn Fein's Pat Doherty, Michelle Gildernew and Paul Maskey, who do not take their seats in the Commons.

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers was joined by predecessors in the role including Peter Hain.

President Higgins paid tribute to the UK Parliament for being synonymous with the principle of democracy and used his address to urge politicians to look at the foundation of parliamentary democracy in Britain for inspiration, referencing the Magna Carta and its significance for modern nations.

He said politics, society and the economy cause division between the citizen and the state when they are treated as separate entities and he urged polticians to remember that citizenship should be rooted in the principles of active participation, justice and freedom.

"Such a vision of citizenship is shared by our two peoples," the President said.

"It is here, in this historic building, that, over the centuries, the will of the British people gradually found its full democratic voice. It is inspiring to stand in a place where, for more than a century, many hundreds of dedicated parliamentarians, in their different ways, represented the interests and aspirations of the Irish people."

The President was a Labour politician for several decades before voted in as head of state with the largest ever single vote in the election in 2011.

He acknowledged that the fight for Irish independence - which his father took part in - cast a long shadow over Anglo-Irish relations but also noted how ties across the Irish Sea are now stronger than ever.

"We acknowledge that past but, even more, we wholeheartedly welcome the considerable achievement of today's reality - the mutual respect, friendship and cooperation which exists between our two countries," he said.

"That benign reality was brought into sharp relief by the historic visit of Queen Elizabeth to Ireland three years ago. Her Majesty's visit eloquently expressed how far we have come in understanding and respecting our differences, and it demonstrated that we could now look at each other through trusting eyes of mutual respect and shared commitments.

"The ties between us are now strong and resolute. Formidable flows of trade and investment across the Irish Sea confer mutual benefit on our two countries. In tourism, sport and culture, our people to people connections have never been as close or abundant."

With Britain and Ireland celebrating a series of centenaries over the next few years, the countries' shared history is a key part of the themes around the state visit.

Mr Higgins recalled the words of Irish nationalist MP Tom Kettle, who fought along with 200,000 Irishmen in the First World War, 50,000 of whom died, and who wrote that "this tragedy of Europe may be and must be the prologue to the two reconciliations of which all statesmen have dreamed, the reconciliation of Protestant Ulster with Ireland, and the reconciliation of Ireland with Great Britain".

Kettle later wrote of his hope for relations between Britain and Ireland: "Free, we are free to be your friend."

Mr Higgins said: "The journey of our shared British-Irish relationship towards that freedom has progressed from the doubting eyes of estrangement to the trusting eyes of partnership and, in recent years, to the welcoming eyes of friendship."

He also paid tribute to the Irish emigrant community in Britain.

"That community is the living heart in the evolving British-Irish relationship. I greatly cherish how the Irish in Britain have preserved and nurtured their culture and heritage while, at the same time, making a distinctive and valued contribution to the development of modern Britain," he said.

Commons Speaker John Bercow said the President's address at Westminster was a "historic" day which "would have been difficult to imagine a few decades ago".

In his introduction he said the visit had been described as "symbolic" but "in this case there is real substance wrapped inside the symbolism".

He said: "The past is a powerful force but we should not allow ourselves to become prisoners of it.

"The progress made in Northern Ireland over the past 20 years, for all its imperfections - some of which still persist - should serve as an eternal reminder that with sufficient determination on all sides, progress can be both achieved and entrenched."

Lord Speaker Baroness D'Souza described the President as a "renaissance man for a renaissance era in UK-Irish politics".

Ireland's President Higgins meets Queen and Charles on historic State visit to UK

By Lise Hand

An impressive display of colour and pageantry greeted Irish President Michael D Higgins and his wife Mrs Sabina Higgins as they arrived in Windsor for the first ever Irish State Visit to Britain.

The visit began at noon when the Queen and Prince Philip formally welcomed the President as he arrived at Windsor & Eton Riverside Railway Station, and as he stepped onto Datchet Road he was given a 21-gun salute.

For several hours, crowds had lined the main street of Windsor town which was decked with Tricolours and Union Flags, and the President was driven in a ceremonial carriage to the Castle.

President and Sabina Higgins were given a warm welcome by the royal couple. Queen Elizabeth was wearing a coat and dress by Stewart Parvin and hat by Angela Kelly. Her coat was sky blue cashmere with mother of pearl buttons and her dress was Paisley printed silk dress in moss green and dove grey, accesorised by a cashmere hat decorated with handmade feather flowers by Stella McLaren.

She is wearing an orchid brooch on coat a gift from Mappin Webb and Waterford as a gift for 60th anniversary of coronation. The flowers are hand cut Waterford crystal. It contains 66 diamonds and rose gold stamens.

Sabina Higgins was wearing a pale pink ensemble, with coat in silk tweed and matching dress by Louise Kennedy and hat by Philip Treacy.

The President inspected the troops in the Quadrangle accompanied by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh as the Band of the Irish Guards played a selection of Irish songs.

Following the Inspection the Irish President presented a new coat to the Irish Wolfhound Regimental Mascot of the 1st Battalion Irish Guards, Domhnall of Shantamon.

The royal party then watched as a colourful parade of cavalry passed by. More than 850 British Army personnel, 275 horses and an Irish Wolfhound were working in support of the state visit Then the royals and guests went into the Castle for a private lunch.

 Earlier in London the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall met with the President and Sabina and also the Tanaiste and his wife Carol Hanney at the Irish Embassy.

They to the Ambassador's office where they were introduced to the President and Sabina Higgins and to the Tánaiste and Ms Hanney.

There were handshakes all round and a few minutes of friendly conversation, before the President and Sabina Higgins escorted the royal couple downstairs to the lobby at 11.07 am where the Prince and the Duchess introduced the British delegation.

The member of the British delegation included The Viscount Hood, Lord-in-waiting on behalf of the Queen, The Hon. Mary Morrison, Lady-in-waiting, Mr Dominick Chilcott, British Ambassador to Ireland, Mrs Jane Chilcott, Commander Andrew Canale RN, Equerry-in-waiting and Captain Oliver Morley, Assistant Equerry.

The Prince and the Duchess along with the President and Sabina then departed in a motorcade for Windsor Castle.

There was a protest across the street by seven pro-choice campaigners who chanted slogans in favour of legalised abortion in Ireland. This was organised by an group called Speaking of IMELDA, an acronym for 'Ireland Making England the Legal Destination for Abortion'.

Further reading

Symbolism alone cannot heal a nation's wounds

Northern Ireland has much to gain from visit by Pope Francis

Martin McGuinness to attend state banquet hosted by the Queen 

Higgins to cement Anglo-Irish bond

By Ed Carty

Three short years after Queen Elizabeth's historic and healing trip to Ireland, President Michael D Higgins will build on that legacy during a return State visit.

Reconciliation was the enduring theme of 2011 - and no image captured it more than the British monarch bowing her head as a mark of respect to the fallen heroes of Irish independence at the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin.

But the next four days will focus on celebration. President Higgins will cement a new Anglo-Irish bond, first through the formalities and expressions of normalised relations, but later with an emphasis on the influence of the Irish in Britain and what generations of emigrants and their children have achieved in business, society, healthcare and culture.

Writing last week, he recalled the Queen's assessment of a complex and shared history and paid tribute to his predecessors Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese, among others, for laying the foundations for the visits.

He said: "The maturity and warmth of the current British-Irish relationship is a legacy of, and bears witness to, the courage, determination and efforts of leaders and communities across our island who took risks to reach for peace and extend the hand of friendship."

On the face of it, a full State visit by the President of Ireland has been on the cards for more than 20 years - Ms Robinson being the first Irish head of state invited to Buckingham Palace and enjoying tea with the Queen in May 1993.

Five years later another huge landmark was passed when Irish soldiers who fought and died in the First World War were formerly recognised by Britain.

More than 200,000 enlisted and 50,000 did not come home. On that day at the Island of Ireland Peace Park in Messines, Belgium, the Queen and Ms McAleese laid wreaths to the fallen in a powerful symbol of their willingness to mark the past to change the future.

The thawing of relations was epitomised that day by a light-hearted chat they had on the merits of Ireland's ancient gaelic game of hurling and its close association with Scotland's shinty.

This week again it is hoped there will be more to the State visit between neighbours than ceremony, protocol and the ticking the diplomatic boxes.

There is a sense that the days of resentment, bitterness and distrust are gone and that a strong sense of pride exists about Ireland's role in British history.

Diarmaid Ferriter, Professor of Modern Irish History at University College Dublin, said the closely choreographed return may also allow Irish people to lay some old ghosts to rest.

"It's been a long time coming. But it will be seen as a culmination of events," he said. "It's the highest level of diplomacy and seen as a furthering of the narrative of reconciliation, a journey of friendship what we have in common as opposed to what we have that divides us, or did divide us, all that feel good rhetoric.

"It will be of great significance for the Irish community in Britain. It will certainly generate a degree of pride there and maybe the laying to rest of a few ghosts for some who experienced poor treatment when they first left Ireland many years ago."

Further recognition of a new dispensation between Britain and Ireland has come in other ways.

The Queen visited Croke Park on her trip to Dublin - the proud headquarters of Ireland's gaelic sports but also the seen of a massacre of 14 fans in 1920 by British forces in reprisal for the assassination of British agents the night before by the IRA.

Elsewhere, although controversial in some unionist, and hardline republican, quarters Martin McGuinness, Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister and senior Sinn Fein figure played his role, shaking hands with the Queen in Belfast in 2012.

Ireland for its part has made amends. In May last year the Government apologised for the treatment of soldiers who abandoned roles in the Defences Forces to fight for the Allies against Nazi Germany only to be branded deserters and on their return blacklisted for life from jobs.

And then there is the affection large numbers in Ireland hold for the royals. Some 1.3 million people watched the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge marry.

The weight other aspects of the trip carry should not be neglected - the President will stay in Windsor Castle, a rare invitation with an opportunity to inspect the colours of disbanded Irish regiments.

He will also address the Houses of Parliament and meet Prime Minister David Cameron during the four day trip.

Mr Higgins' presence may not carry the same emotional punch as the Queen in Ireland but it will be measured in terms of how he assesses relations with his own inimitable style and intellect.

Prof Ferriter said: "The challenge for Michael D Higgins is to fashion his own narrative, to frame Anglo-Irish relations, and being a student of sociology and philosophy he will want to do that."

The Queen's visit is probably one of the most significant in her 60 years on the throne and in advance of the return, President Higgins summed up his thoughts on his follow-up trip.

He said: "This historic visit reminds us that while the passage of time can change the contours of political maps and perhaps even community allegiances, it does not alter the challenges and possibilities of our shared humanity with its innate decency and dignity.

"The values which unite the British and Irish people are ones I look forward to affirming and celebrating during the forthcoming State Visit to the United Kingdom."

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