Irish President Michael D Higgins has dedicated his historic state visit to Britain to all those who have emigrated from Ireland and set up home across the Irish Sea.President Higgins landed in London on Monday night on the first ever visit by an Irish president as the guest of the Queen of England.
He will be based at Windsor Castle for the duration of his trip and a state banquet in his honor will be attended by Sinn Fein deputy leader Martin McGuinness. Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson, Prime Minister David Cameron, Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Speaking to the Irish media before he left Dublin on the government jet, President Higgins told reporters he will think of his two sisters, his childhood neighbors and all the other Irish emigrants ‘who have come and contributed to Britain’ when he is welcomed at Windsor Castle.
The President, accompanied by his wife Sabina, said he is ‘very moved’ and ‘excited” about his four-day state visit but ‘a bit anxious that it all goes well.’ The Irish Examiner reports that he hopes to reflect after the trip on his own father, who had fought in the War of Independence. He also described how he once worked as a silver service waiter in Brighton in his youth and revealed that he is an occasional follower of Chelsea football club.
He said, “This visit will represent a further step on a journey beyond peace, towards a sustainable kindness and prosperity with each other.“ It will mean an enormous amount to the Irish in Britain and many will think of what their parents and grandparents might have thought when they went across the Irish Sea in different times.”
President Higgins was greeted on arrival in England by the Irish ambassador to Britain, Dan Mulhall. As part of the historic trip, President Higgins will address the joint houses of Parliament in Westminster on Tuesday, and will dine with British Prime Minister David Cameron at 10 Downing Street on Wednesday afternoon.
This will be another key moment in the historic trip following the recent declaration by the British Prime Minister that relations between Ireland and Britain are now at “an all-time high.”
Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness will be present for the state banquet, along with First Minister Peter Robinson, Prime Minister David Cameron and Taoiseach (Irish prime minister) Enda Kenny.
President Higgins spoke on national radio in Ireland on Monday about the visit and relations with Queen Elizabeth II.
President Higgins said his meeting with the Queen will represent a new beginning in relations between the two countries.
“This is the opening of the door rather than the closing of anything," he told RTE's "Morning Ireland."
He said, "The invitation to return Her Majesty's visit (to Ireland, two years ago) came very quickly." The visit has been approached with "great generosity and extension and enthusiasm from my host," he said.
The president is the first president to make an official state visit to Britain, and he will stay at Windsor Castle.
Independent.ie reports that President Higgins said that progress in the Northern Ireland peace process should not be about forgetting the past.
"There are a lot of very difficult memories and it would be to my mind wrong to suggest to anyone that you should as it were, wipe the slate clean," he said.
"I think Her Majesty in coming to Ireland and addressing for example issues of relations between our two people was doing it the right way."
The BBC's Fergal Keane asked Higgins if he believed the victims of violence deserved an apology.
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