Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald met Prince Charles in Cork last night just hours after he spoke of how reconciliation and understanding can guide both countries on a path of shared prosperity and security.
Sinn Féin members staged a protest in the city during Queen Elizabeth’s visit in 2011, but the only protests yesterday were about traffic diversions and parking restrictions as part of a security operation for the visit of the Prince of Wales and his wife, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall.
Security was tight for the couple’s fourth visit to Ireland in as many years, but crowds in the city centre were sparse, with gardaí estimating that about 2,000 people lined the streets.
The royal couple visited the English Market and City Hall, before the prince visited UCC, the National Maritime College and the Irish Naval Base in Haulbowline, as Camilla visited the Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind and the Cuanlee refuge.
On his last full day in office, Lord Mayor Cllr Tony Fitzgerald hosted a civic reception for the couple, during which the prince said the partnership between Britain and Ireland could hardly be of greater importance.
“Today, we are not just neighbours, but old friends who, tragically, have travelled a troubled road, along which many wrongs have been done,” he said.
“With reconciliation and understanding as our guides, we have found a new path to shared prosperity and security, and we are determined that we must never lose our way again.”
Ms McDonald, who was accompanied by Sinn Féin vice-president Michelle O’Neill during the 30-minute private meeting last night, said it was an opportunity to extend the hand of friendship, not just to Prince Charles or to the British royal family — whose efforts to promote reconciliation she acknowledged — but to those on this island who identify as British and who are British.
“The past may inform who we are, but it cannot define where we are going,” she said.
Prince Charles told guests at the civic reception of his joy of at last being able to visit Ireland’s “real capital”.
“We have heard so many marvellous things about Cork, not least from my own parents, who so greatly enjoyed their visit to this city in 2011,” he said.
“In fact, when I told the queen we were going to be visiting Cork, she said ‘you must go to the English Market. You will love it!’
"So, in retracing the queen and Prince Philip’s steps this morning to the English Market, we were delighted to find that it was just as magical as they had described; that the stallholders were as welcoming and that their produce was as irresistible as the quality of the fishmongers’ jokes.”
He also announced that an ‘honorary prosperity consul’ is to be appointed in Cork – the first such appointment by the UK outside of Dublin.
“This is a testament to Cork’s significance,” said the prince, who spoke Irish during the civic reception, and again during a toast at a VIP dinner in the Crawford Gallery last night.
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