Irish president praises work of Irish abroad -- and hopes next UK visit will be official
Irish president Michael D Higgins praised the role of Irish emigrants yesterday as he made his first visit to the UK since his inauguration.
During his inaugural address in November, the president said that he was anxious to represent Irish people both at home and abroad.
And yesterday his first stop on his two-day trip to London was a visit to the Irish Centre in Camden, where he met groups working with the community and people who used its services.
He recalled the achievements of Irish people in the past who worked hard across Britain and then sent their earnings to their families back home.
But those who fled from famine in the past and travelled to England for survival would probably find the events of recent times unbelievable, he told the gathered audience.
"Nor would they believe the extent to which Irish people have today achieved success across every part of British society," he said.
Relations between the two countries had "never been better or closer", he said.
Mr Higgins added that he now hoped the first official visit of an Irish head of state to the UK would happen early next year.
He said that any invitation to him from the British government would be "very warmly received".
The move would follow on from the successful visit of Queen Elizabeth to Ireland last year and mark a new chapter in Anglo-Irish relations.
"I think that one thing is certain that there will be a return visit," Mr Higgins said.
"I expect that an invitation will be issued and when it is issued, it will be very warmly received and decisions will be taken at that time.
"So you can take it that there will be a return visit and if an invitation is received, it will be very warmly received."
Such an event would take relations between Britain and Ireland to "another plane" and would be widely welcomed, he said.
His current trip is not an official visit but will take in various stops including a visit to the site of the London 2012 Olympics today, where he will be met by Sebastian Coe.