The first British royal to visit Croke Park next weekend will be welcome despite protests by Sinn Féin, Minister for Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern insisted today.
Princess Anne will make history when she crosses the threshold of Croke Park where 14 civilians were massacred by British troops in 1920.
She is expected to watch the Ireland v Scotland rugby international from the VIP enclosure in the Hogan Stand.
Ahern said Anne, who is patron of the Scottish Rugby Union and regularly attends their matches, will be made to feel welcome.
“Ireland is a very welcoming country, known for extending its hand of friendship to visitors. Princess Anne is very welcome to Croke Park,” a spokesman for the minister said.
“She has very strong connections to Scottish rugby, and like all the other fans she will be welcome on such a wonderful occasion to the wonderful stadium of Croke Park.”
The visit will be seen as another milestone in the peace process, coming almost a year to the day that God Save the Queen was played when Ireland beat England at their first meeting in the stadium.
As was the case for that historic match, Sinn Féin party – linked to the Continuity IRA – said it will stage a protest at next Saturday’s game.
The visit by Anne will also be seen as another step towards a first official trip to Ireland by Queen Elizabeth, which Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has said is inevitable.
But Minister Dermot Ahern played down the significance of the occasion.
“There has been a number of visits by members of the British royal family to Ireland. This is just one other visit,” he said.
Anne has visited Ireland before to see Scotland play at the Lansdowne Road stadium which has been demolished to make way for a new home to Irish rugby.
The GAA had to overturn a ban just two years ago on the playing of “foreign games” in its grounds to allow soccer and rugby internationals to be staged at Croke Park until work on the new Lansdowne Road stadium is completed.