The prospect of an historic visit to Ireland by the queen of England edged closer today after Princess Anne jetted into Dublin to meet President Mary McAleese.
A spokeswoman for the President said both sides were agreed that such a visit would take place in the future but no timing had yet been finalised.
The possibility of a British head of state visiting Ireland for the first time in more than 90 years was not discussed during today’s meeting but speculation continues to grow.
The Princess Royal was greeted by Mrs McAleese as she arrived at her official residence, Aras an Uachtarain, in Phoenix Park.
The Princess, whose arrival in Dublin was delayed by an hour due to fog, was accompanied on her private visit by British ambassador to Ireland, Stewart Eldon.
The possibility of the Queen visiting Dublin grew after President McAleese offered her an informal invitation during a visit to Buckingham Palace in 2002.
But the president’s spokeswoman said tonight the two governments would have to agree the fine detail of a visit before a formal invitation could be extended.
“The President is on record as saying she would welcome a visit from the Queen,” she said.
“There is an understanding on both sides that it will happen at some stage in the future.
“But it’s a long way from being sorted out yet and there is nothing in terms of a timetable in place.”
A spokeswoman for the British Embassy said Buckingham Palace currently had no plans for the Queen to visit Ireland.
Princess Anne has visited the country several times before, on the last occasion to watch the Ireland-Scotland rugby match at Lansdowne Road in 2002, which she attended in her capacity as patron of Scottish rugby.
The Prince of Wales visited President McAleese at her official residence two years ago, while the Duke of Edinburgh also paid a courtesy call to Áras an Uachtarain in 1998.
Princess Anne, a keen horse rider, watched a riding demonstration at the Defence Forces Equitation School following the conclusion of her meeting with Mrs McAleese.
She then moved on to the Old Jameson Distillery, where she presented Noel Butler and Stephen Campion with their Irish Sailors of the Year awards.
Princess Anne later presented a founder member of the Meath Peace Group with an honorary MBE, before departing from Baldonnel airfield.
Juliatta Clancy was awarded the honour in recognition of her work promoting peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland over the past 10 years.
Meanwhile, President McAleese is to embark on a two-day official visit to London tomorrow.