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Alban Maginness

Like the Queen and the Prince of Wales, William is committed to strengthening British-Irish links

Alban Maginness

The Duke of Cambridge said all the right things during his recent visit to the Republic, writes Alban Maginness


William and Kate with Irish president Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina Coyne

William and Kate with Irish president Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina Coyne

William and Kate with Irish president Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina Coyne

The royal visit to the Republic by Prince William, the future heir to the throne, was a relatively low-key and understated event. Nonetheless, it was a successful visit by an important and likeable royal figure, promoting goodwill and good relations between Britain and Ireland.

It revealed the future heir's eagerness to be personally proactive in encouraging friendship between the Irish and British people. Together with his glamorous wife, Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, he intrigued the Irish public and its political and civic representatives with a genuineness and earnestness that won over those who met him or heard his uplifting remarks.

The royal visit was significant on two levels. First, that the future heir to the British throne was himself personally engaged and very interested in Ireland and the Irish people. Second, that the British Government wished, through the prince's visit, to send a strong message that, post-Brexit, it wished to maintain and sustain a close and fruitful relationship with the Irish Republic.

That reassurance, at a time of uncertainty and flux, was an important political message that should be appreciated by the Irish government and its political establishment. This exercise in goodwill should be built upon by both countries.

In his important address at the Museum of Literature in Dublin, Prince William called upon the United Kingdom and Ireland to maintain bonds of friendship after Brexit.

He said: "The changing relationship between the UK and the EU will require us to work together, to ensure that the relationship between Ireland and the UK remains just as strong."

He stressed that, while legal treaties were important to underpin inter-state relationships, relationships between peoples were more essential. He urged the United Kingdom and Ireland not to be bound by the wrongs of the past.

He continued: "I am confident that friendship, understanding and a shared vision for a peaceful and prosperous future will ensure that the unique and precious bond between our people is not broken."

Significantly, he referred to the role of the royal family in Anglo-Irish relations when he said: "My family is determined to continue playing our part in protecting, preserving and strengthening that bond."

This latter reference was to the pivotal role that the Queen and the royal family has played over the past decade, since the Queen's historic visit to the Republic, during the memorable presidency of Mary McAleese.

In particular, his visit to the Republic's Garden of Remembrance followed very much in the footsteps of his grandmother in 2011, when she visited the same Garden of Remembrance (incidentally, this visit occurred exactly 100 years after the last royal visit to Dublin in 1911 by George V).

This dramatic piece of history was a sensitively conducted act of reconciliation by the monarch to the people of Ireland. It expressed her desire to bind the wounds and divisions of the past.

For the Queen, it was a very deliberate and personal step to encourage reconciliation.

It was, without doubt, an act that disturbed, or dismayed, many northern unionists. However, if they had objectively assessed this action, it was clearly in the interests of all the people of Ireland, unionists as well as nationalists.

It was a necessary step by the Queen, as head of state, to consolidate the precious gains achieved by the Good Friday Agreement.

Not only has the Queen played an active part in encouraging peace and goodwill between Britain and Ireland, but so also has William's father, Prince Charles.

Over the past number of years, Charles and his wife, Camilla, have visited Ireland five times. Each of these trips has been designed to achieve goodwill and a greater understanding and respect between the two countries.

Not only has he met with the current president, Michael D Higgins, and various members of government, but he has gone out of his way to meet ordinary people throughout the country.

Prince Charles, like his son, William, clearly has a liking for Ireland and the Irish people. Together with his mother, the Queen, the Prince of Wales is committed to building peace and harmony between our two peoples.

Like the Queen, who famously met Martin McGuinness, Prince Charles has also met with leaders of Sinn Fein, including Gerry Adams, as well as McGuinness.

These extraordinary meetings were carried out by the royal family despite the IRA's involvement in the despicable murder of Lord Mountbatten, the man who, ironically, paved the way for India's independence in 1947. Those meetings were brought about to create goodwill and cement the peace.

What the Queen or Prince Charles privately thought about meeting people who were very closely associated with the murderers of their near relation and friend is in itself intriguing. We shall never know.

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