The long-rumored first state visit to the Republic of Ireland by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth is finally set to become reality in 2011, according to Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin.

"I think the way has been cleared for a visit, that is how I would look at it, and I would expect something to happen in 2011," Martin is quoted as saying in “The Belfast Telegraph.”

It is expected that the highly anticipated – and controversial – trip will take place prior to the end of Irish President Mary McAleese’s term at the end of 2011.

McAleese has met the Queen on a number of occasions and is known to be an ardent supporter of a royal trip to Ireland.  McAleese has visited the Queen in London, and the two also met in 2005 at Hillsborough in Co. Down.

"It was a very special day for Anglo-Irish relationships. I think things are developing. Things are going in the right direction,” McAleese said after that first meeting on Irish soil.

Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen is also supportive of Queen Elizabeth visiting the Irish Republic, but if the occasion comes to pass it will happen after Cowen leaves office, as an Irish general election will take place in March at the latest.

Martin says that, given the success of the Irish peace process and the ongoing close relationship between the U.K. and the Irish Republic, an Irish state visit by Britain’s senior royal makes sense.

"To me the natural, I think, end point of all of that would be the Queen coming to Ireland as a formal head of state meeting our head of state,” said Martin.

"Our head of state has received heads of state from all over the world and at this juncture, in this era, it seems odd to me that the head of state of our nearest neighbor hasn't been here yet.”

The Queen has visited Northern Ireland on several occasions. Her eldest son, Prince Charles, made a state visit to the Irish Republic in 1995, and has since returned in a private capacity with his wife Camilla.