State Visit

President Michael D Higgins makes historic official trip to Britain

Dan Griffin Tue, Apr 8
LIVE: State Visit

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  • 09:07
    President Michael D Higgins has arrived with his wife Sabina for the historic State Visit to Britain.

    Ireland and Britain must deal with the pain of the past, but must not be crippled by it, the President had declared on the eve of the four-day State visit - the first made by an Irish head of state to our neighbours over the Irish Sea.

    Mr Higgins and his wife Sabina, accompanied by Minister for Foreign Affairs Mr Eamon Gilmore and his wife Carol Hanney, flew into Heathrow yesterday evening, where they were greeted by the Irish Ambassador to Britain Dan Mulhall and his wife Greta. More here.
  • 09:13

    This is Peter Smyth providing live coverage of Michael D's State trip until later on, when Dan Griffin will take over.

    Michael D really is a great public speaker - I heard him once in Galway Town Hall in 2001, at a gathering of African immigrants living in Ireland, talking about the necessity for tolerance in a country coming to grips with other peoples making a life here.

    The queen made big inroads here with her speechmaking during her official trip three years ago. If Michael can make a similar impact across the water, he'll be away with it.

  • 09:17
    Dan Keenan writes today that President Michael D Higgins said before his departure that he hoped the four-day State visit to Britain would be the first of many and that they would become more frequent and “relaxed”.
  • 09:20

  • 09:21

  • 09:24

  • 09:26

  • 09:29

    That's just some of the stuff the twitterati have put out there on the State trip. So you know.

    Back at the ranch, Mark Hennessy writes: "Sometimes, the small things are what make a house a home, no matter how grand its walls.

    "Today, President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina will enter Windsor Castle with Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh.

    "Inside the sovereign’s entrance are four small statues of corgis, visible if one knows where to look – a homely gesture by a monarch who has kept the breed since she was a child." Read on here.

  • 09:42

    Michael D begins the visit today heralding a new era of relations between the two countries.

    It will include an address to the Houses of Parliament and a focus on the contribution Irish emigrants have made to UK life.
    The theme of the visit will be on the two countries’ shared histories.

    Its significance will be deepened by the presence of Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister and ex-IRA commander Martin McGuinness who will attend a banquet hosted by the Queen - a move very unthinkable not too long ago.

  • 09:47

    Dan Keenan also writes:

    “Looking to his packed itinerary over the next four days, President Higgins said he could not single out any one engagement, but citing the emigration of half of his wider family to Britain after the 1950s, he said the meeting with the Irish community in Coventry would be of particular note. `[The schedule] is packed full of great opportunities. It’s obviously very significant to be the first head of state to have an opportunity to make this state visit and to speak to the Commons and Lords.’

    "He said it was important for him to address the future economicdirection of the two countries and what he called the `issues we will share in restructuring the global economy which I will address in Guildhall’ in the City of London.”

  • 09:52

    Mr and Mrs Higgins spent the first night of the visit in The Doyle Kensington Hotel before travelling to Windsor Castle this morning, where they were to be formally greeted by Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh.

    The four were to travel together by horse-drawn carriage for a ceremonial welcome at Windsor Castle.

    Prior to departing for Windsor, Mr and Mrs Higgins were to meet the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall at the Irish Embassy at Grosvenor Place.

    Later in the day, Mr and Mrs Higgins will visit Westminster Abbey and the Palace of Westminster, where the President will make an address, before returning to Windsor for a meeting with Labour leader Ed Miliband and, wouldn't you know, the state banquet.

    Mr Higgins will tomorrow visit University College Hospital London, the Royal Society and 10 Downing Street, to meet prime minister David Cameron.

    Other engagements include a visit to the Park House Stables in Newbury, a tour of Coventry Cathedral, a concert at the Royal Albert Hall and a visit to the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon.

  • 09:53

  • 09:59
    Begod, it wouldn’t do if any of the Irish grammar there was less than waterproof. One imagines a bucketload of officials checking it over before release, so one does.
    Apparently it wasn’t the first time the British monarchy’s account tweeted in Irish, having previously announced details of Mr Higgins’s visit on March 25th (with Sonraí na Cuairte Stáit deimhnithe ag Pálás Buckingham, chéad chuairt ar an Ríocht Aontaithe ag Uachtarán ar Éirinn).
    The latest tweet was positively received and was retweeted 400 times and marked as favourite 195 times within a short time. It also triggered a stream of comments both from followers of @Britishmonarchy and those with an interest in Irish.

  • 10:07
    And they're off: The official engagements begin around now with a visit to the Irish Embassy in London at 10am, where the President and his wife Sabina will meet Prince Charles and Camilla.
  • 10:11

    Questioned by the BBC last night about efforts to find peace in the North, Mr Higgins said there was still “very significant work to do”.

    He said the past would have to be faced up to. “Affecting a kind of amnesia is of no value to you, you are better to honestly deal with the facts that are standing behind you as shadows.

    "How could I say to any family whose family member might be in a wheelchair or somebody who is dead, you must put it behind you?”

  • 10:21
    Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said this was a historic day, recalled the millions of Irish people who left Ireland “in very different times” to make their way in Britain, and compared this to the very different relationship between the countries today.
    Enda will be present for some of the events today. He returns to Ireland tomorrow for scheduled business but travels to Britain for the remainder of the State Visit on Thursday.
  • 10:24

  • 10:27

  • 10:27

  • 10:29
    I don't know if that's true about the queen's walking protocols. But it might as well be, what with all that pomp and splendour going on. The best bit will be Michael D's speech. Roll on.
  • 10:50
    Chris Brown, Windsor town crier, with John and Noreen Nolan with grandchildren Dane and Ben. The couple, from Carlow, are living in Crawley for 30 years. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times
    Chris Brown, Windsor town crier, with John and Noreen Nolan with grandchildren Dane and Ben. The couple, from Carlow, are living in Crawley for 30 years. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times
  • 11:00
    There's a video here of Chris Brown, the Windsor town crier, welcoming Michael D.
  • 11:02
    And Mark Hennessy and Steven Carroll have the latest on what the President will be getting up to today. He'll be tired by the end of it.
  • 11:10

    Mark Hennessy writes: "No photographs of the queen shaking hands with Martin McGuinness will be taken, which is again in line with royal protocol. Even though this won’t be their first handshake, McGuinness may be glad such a memento will not be available this time."

    That was certainly a memorable picture. Let me dig it out for you.

  • 11:17
    Here it is: A shot from June 2012 of Queen Elizabeth II shaking hands with Martin McGuinness, who will be a quest of the queen at the state banquet. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire
    Here it is: A shot from June 2012 of Queen Elizabeth II shaking hands with Martin McGuinness, who will be a quest of the queen at the state banquet. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire
  • 11:25

  • 11:34

    Here's Michael D Higgins's statement issued this morning by Aras an Uachtarain on the death yesterday of Peaches Geldof: “I extend my deepest sympathies to Bob Geldof and his family on the sudden and untimely death of his daughter Peaches.

    "This is such a difficult cross to bear for any family and all of our thoughts are with Peaches’ family and friends at this time.

    "Sabina and I were due to meet Bob Geldof while on the State visit and we are thinking of him at this time of immense loss.” – 8th Aril, 2014

  • 11:40

    Here's an ould chestnut tweet by some "queen" or other, ah sure why not play up those old stereotypes eh? It's been retweeted 761 times, no kidding.

  • 11:53
    Apparently Paddy Power have started taking bets on when Queen Elizabeth will next visit Ireland, in light of the President's British visit. The bookie makes it 9/4 for the queen to repeat her 2011 visit before the end of 2014 with odds of 6/4 available on her gracing our shores in 2016 or 2017.
  • 12:01
    Here’s Michael D this morning (with wife Sabina behind) at the Irish Embassy with Camilla the Duchess of Cornwall as she and the Prince of Wales welcome him to Britain. Photograph: John Stillwell/PA Wire
    Here’s Michael D this morning (with wife Sabina behind) at the Irish Embassy with Camilla the Duchess of Cornwall as she and the Prince of Wales welcome him to Britain. Photograph: John Stillwell/PA Wire
  • 12:05

    And the latest from Steven Carroll is that Queen Elizabeth has greeted President Michael D Higgins at Windsor Castle as part of the first State visit to Britain.
    About noon, Mr Higgins and his wife Sabina arrived at the Royal Dais at Windsor accompanied by the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall.
    Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip (The Duke of Edinburgh) were awaiting their arrival and the occasion was marked with the firing of a royal salute by members of The King's Troop Royal Horse Artillery.

    That's it from me. Handing over to Dan Griffin.

  • 12:08

    Amhrán na bhFiann comes to a close on the outskirts of Windsor. The horse drawn carriages are being brought forward now to bring the President, the queen and their spouses to Windsor Castle.

  • 12:25
    The President now finishing the inspection of the first battalion of the Grenadaire Guards in the Windsor Quadrangle.
  • 12:27
    The President was then introduced to Drummer David Steed, who was holding the Irish Guard's mascot - an Irish Wolfhound named Domhnall.
  • 12:29
  • 12:30
  • 12:35

    The Presidential and royal parties retiring into Windsor Castle now for a private lunch. After that they'll be heading to London ahead of this evening's banquet, back in Windsor.

  • 12:42

    RTÉ are doing quite a good job at covering all this, on TV and radio, even if they do  occasionally get a bit carried away...

    "Look at this, just look at this. Incredible. The oiled hooves, the shiny uniforms. wonderful, just wonderful."  

  • 12:46
  • 12:54

    Today the Queen is wearing a coat and dress by Stewart Parvin and hat by Angela Kelly.

    The coat is sky blue cashmere with mother of pearl buttons and the dress is Paisley printed silk in moss green and dove grey. Her hat is cashmere decorated with handmade feather flowers by Stella McLaren.

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

  • 13:08

    The President and Mrs Higgins are now with the queen and Prince Philip in Windsor Castle. Shortly the President will view the display of Irish items from the royal collection.

    Later this afternoon he will arrive at Westminster Abbey to lay a wreath at the Grave of the Unknown Warrior. At about 4.15 he will deliver an addresss at the Palace of Westminster.

  • 13:22

    Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams speaking on Radio 1 in the past few minutes said Martin McGuinness's presence at tonight's royal banquet has to be seen "very positively" in the context of change and transition.

    He admitted it does "present some political and symbolic challenges for Irish republicans" but added Sinn Féin had "agreed in principle" about a month ago that Mr McGuinness should attend the state visit in some capacity.

    "The party thinks this is the right thing to do," said Mr Adams. Mr McGuinness's presence this evening along with Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson means the whole island of will be represented on the state visit, he added.

  • 13:36
    We have plenty of videos on the site covering the state visit. click this link to watch the President receiving the royal treatment at Windsor Castle a short while ago:
  • 13:54

    Irish news organisations are giving the state visit major coverage today. It's not quite the same in the UK though with the websites of the BBC, the Telegraph, the Guardian and the Independent all declining to put the event on their homepages.

  • 13:57

    The BBC's Ireland correspondent Andy Martin does offer some analysis:

    "The return leg of the Queen's enormously successful tour of Ireland means there will be no more "firsts" in the attempt to make Ireland and Britain normal neighbours," he says.

    Heb adds: "Mr Higgins will struggle to match [the symbolism of the queen's visit], or indeed the obvious friendship that developed between his predecessor Mary McAleese and the royals in 2011. However, his role in London is designed to break the idea that such a visit is unusual.

    "Mr Higgins, himself a poet and a migrant worker in England in his youth, will be keen to emphasise those things that tie the counties together, rather than the issues that have so brutally divided them.

  • 14:46
    There's an updated gallery of images from today's goings on here.
  • 14:48
  • 14:49
    The President will shortly be leaving Windsor Castle to travel to Westminster in central London.
  • 14:54
  • 15:09

    Former president Mary Robinson, speaking from Rwanda yesterday, on the state visit:

    I'm following closely... I think this is an extraordinarily important moment for the two countries. It's a very generous, fulsome state visit, and that means that on the British side they're taking it very seriously, as we know.

    And I believe that President Higgins and Sabina will do a very good job and do us proud, which is what we often say we want a president to “do us proud”. That will happen.

    I go to Bukavu tomorrow in the DRC. It might be harder to follow there, but in so far as I can I'll be glued to whatever television will be covering and I hope it will be as important a moment for the two countries as the state visit of Her Majesty the Queen. I see no reason why it wouldn't be of equal significance.

  • 15:14
    The queen and the President, earlier. They look like it's their first day of school. Photograph: PA.
    The queen and the President, earlier. They look like it's their first day of school. Photograph: PA.
  • 15:26
  • 15:56
    President Higgins and his wife have arrived at Westminster Abbey. He'll lay the wreath there and then he'll cross the road to the Palace of Westminster to address the houses of parliament.
  • 15:56
  • 16:19
    Yes, we're back. After dutifully marking time since the pageantry of this morning's events at Windsor Castle we're now ready to go to Westminster Palace for the President's address to the British political establishment.
  • 16:25
    Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore and his wife take their seats in the Royal Gallery now.
  • 16:26

    David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband, and other cabinet ministers are sitting in the front row.

  • 16:27
    The President is entering the Royal Gallery now, lead by the Black Rod. The queen and Prince Philip have of course remained at Windsor Castle ahead of the big banquet later on.
  • 16:30
    "Mr President, you could not be more welcome here than you are," says the speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow in his introduction.
  • 16:32
    He speaks of the gracious and warm welcome he has received so far.
  • 16:35
    “Next month marks the centenary of the passing of the Home Rule Act by the House of Commons — a landmark in our shared history. It was also here that the votes of Irish nationalist MPs in 1911 were instrumental in the passage of the Parliament Act, a critical step in the development of your parliamentary system,” he says.
  • 16:35
    He also points out that history was made in 1918 when the Irish electorate chose the first woman to be elected to parliament, Constance Markiewicz, who chose not to take her Westminster seat but, rather, to represent her constituents in the first Dáil Éireann.
  • 16:36
    He speaks of Daniel O'Connell--"our great Irish parliamentarian"--and his quest for freedom “attained not by the effusion of human blood but by the constitutional combination of good and wise men”.
  • 16:38
    He says the past cast a long shadow across relations between the two countries. “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. That benign reality was brought into sharp relief by the historic visit of Queen Elizabeth to Ireland three years ago."
  • 16:39
    He goes on: “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 so close or abundant, interdependent.”
  • 16:40
    He acknowledges the contribution of the Irish in the UK down through the years. “As someone whose own siblings made their home here, I am very proud of the large Irish community that is represented in every walk of life in the United Kingdom. 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.”
  • 16:41
    He speaks of upcoming commemorations of events that define "different but deeply interwoven narratives".
  • 16:44
    The President receives a standing ovation as he finishes his address.
  • 16:47

    Lord Speaker Baroness D'Souza thanks the President and says it is a measure of the estimation in which he is held that he has been afforded the opportunity to address both houses of parliament.

    She notes the President's poetry and says he comes from a country with a strong literary tradition, one which Britain is proud to consider a friend.

  • 16:50
    Before making his address in Westminster, the President paused to view the Mountbatten memorial.
  • 17:14
    The Very Reverend John Hall, Dean of Westminster Abbey, shows Irish President Michael D Higgins around Westminster Abbey in London. Photograph: John Stillwell/PA Wire
    The Very Reverend John Hall, Dean of Westminster Abbey, shows Irish President Michael D Higgins around Westminster Abbey in London. Photograph: John Stillwell/PA Wire
  • 17:31
    The President will be making his way back to Windsor Castle now where he will receive a courtesy call from Labour leader Ed Miliband. Then later this evening there's the royal banquet, where the President and the queen will each make a short address. Those speeches should be starting some time after 8pm. We'll post intermittently until then and bring you the speeches in detail when they begin.
  • 17:53
  • 18:37
    The President's pause at the Mountbatten memorial is being compared to the queen's decision to lay a wreath at the Garden of Remembrance. Speaking on Six One news Taoiseach Enda Kenny said it was a similarly important gesture. Mr Kenny also said he wanted to see the UK remain within the EU.
  • 18:44

    The Irish Wolfhound Club of Ireland have been in touch with some more information about Domhnall. To wit:

    The Coat presented by President Higgins to the Irish Wolfhound Mascot Domhnall of the Irish Guards was a return present of a Coat that the Irish Guards presented to the Irish Army for their Wolfhound Mascot of the 5th Battalion in Collins Barracks, Dublin over 40 years ago. (They did not have a coat for the mascot at the time) It was made by Dublin Flag makers Prospect Design.

    The Wolfhound Domhnall was named after an Irish King as are all the previous Mascots.

    Domhnall was a gift to the Irish Guards for the Queen's visit to Ireland by the Irish Wolfhound Club of Ireland.

  • 19:36
  • 20:29
  • 20:43
    The Queen is now addressing the banquet in Windsor. She is recalling her visit to Ireland and the hospitality shown to her and Prince Philip.
  • 20:43

    She says that since then the British and the Irish are becoming good neighbours and friends.

    There is today no closer working relationship of her government than the one it has with Ireland, she says.

  • 20:45

    "It is right to look back in remembrance," she says. "In August we will mark solemnly" the outbreak of World War I. We will remember and honour the Irish contribution and sacrifice during that war, she says.

  • 20:46
    She praises the contribution of Irish people to Britain but says they have experienced discrimination down through the decades. "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."
  • 20:48
    "Last year we lost the poet Seamus Heaney...his poems reflected the changing circumstances in Northern Ireland," she says. She adds that the G8 meeting and other events in the North last year showed the very best of the region.
  • 20:51

    The goal of modern British Irish relations, she says, is that "we who inhabit these islands should live together as neighbours and friends...cooperating to our mutual benefit, at ease in each other's company." She says this goal is achievable now despite the two countries' "chequered"  past.

    "We shall remember our past but we shall no longer allow our past to ensnare our future," she concludes before proposing a toast to the President and the people of Ireland.

  • 20:52
    The President is now making his address.
  • 20:53

    "However long it may have taken, Your Majesty, I can assure you that this first State Visit of a President of Ireland to the United Kingdom is a very visible sign of the warmth and maturity of the relationship between our two countries. It is something to be truly welcomed and celebrated."

    He refers to the queen using Irish during her speech in 2011 and says "I would also like to draw from the oral tradition of our ancient language a seanfhocal":

    "Ar scáth a chile a mhairimd"

    "Because scáth literally means shadow, this phrase is sometimes translated as we live in the shadow of each other. However, there is a more open and more accommodating meaning. Scáth also means shelter."

  • 20:54
    He adds: "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. 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."
  • 20:54
    As he did during his speech to the houses of parliament earlier, the President acknowledges the role of Irish emigrants in the UK. "The contribution of Irish men and Irish women to life in Britain, which Your Majesty has acknowledged with such grace, is indeed extensive and lends itself to no simple description. 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."
  • 20:55
    "When we are fortunate, history evolves into greater mutual understanding between peoples.  The welcome that is so naturally afforded to British visitors in Ireland today was, I think, wholeheartedly expressed on the occasion of your State Visit in 2011.  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."
  • 20:56
    The President adds: "We valued your apt and considered words when you addressed some of the painful moments of our mutual history, and we were moved by your gestures of respect at sites of national historical significance in Ireland...While the past must be respectfully recognised, it must not imperil the potential of the present or the possibilities of the future – ar féidireachtaí gan teorainn – our endless possibilities working together. "
  • 20:56
    He says the present occasion "completes a circle begun by your historic visit three years ago" and "marks the welcome transformation in relations between our countries over recent years".
  • 20:57
    "We owe a great debt to all of those who had the courage to work towards, and make manifest, that peace [in Northern Ireland]. I wish to acknowledge here the remarkable contributions of my predecessors Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese. I am especially pleased that former President McAleese, and her husband Martin, are here with us this evening."
  • 20:58

    He goes on: "We must, however, never forget those who died, were bereaved, or injured, during a tragic conflict. As the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur wrote; to be forgotten is to die twice. We owe a duty to all those who lost their lives, the duty to build together in peace; it is the only restitution, the only enduring justice we can offer them.

    "We share, also, the imperative to be unwavering in our support of the people of Northern Ireland as we journey together towards the shelter and security of true reconciliation. We celebrate what has been achieved but we must also constantly renew our commitment to a process that requires vigilance and care."

  • 20:59
    Bringing his address to a close, the President says: "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."
  • 20:59

    "I therefore invite you, distinguished guests, to stand and join me in a toast:

    To the health and happiness of Her Majesty and His Royal Highness, and the people of the United Kingdom;

    To a creative cooperation and a sustainable partnership between our countries and our peoples; and

    To valued neighbours whose friendship we truly cherish.

    Go raibh maith agaibh go léir."

  • 21:02
    And that's where we'll leave the state visit live blog for today. We'll be back again tomorrow morning. Until then, goodnight.