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ON Sunday, August 17, in the company of the Mayor of Kilkenny at Rothe House in one of his final official engagements in this State, the British ambassador to Ireland Mr David Reddaway raised the political temperature somewhat by referring to the ‘imminent’ visit to the Republic of Ireland by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II.
Such a visit has been spoken of favourably in recent times by President McAleese and former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, who have both publicly suggested that the time is now right for such a visit. The interjection by the British ambassador on this most sensitive issue at this time is most unhelpful and regrettable. Mr Reddaway expressed the view that it is his hope that the British monarch will visit this State “before too long”.
If an official State visit to the Republic by Queen Elizabeth does take place, it will be the first such visit by a reigning British monarch since Irish independence in 1922. This is highly significant. A royal visit would no doubt be portrayed as part of a normalisation process between two friendly neighbouring states and as benefiting the peace process by reassuring unionism both north and south. In fact, that is precisely what this suggested visit is intended to portray. However, Anglo Irish relations are not and never have been ‘normal’.
In November 2006, a report issued by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice spoke of “acts of international terrorism that were colluded in by British security forces”. The report went on to highlight instances of British obstruction in investigating such crimes as the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of 1974 and the Miami Showband massacre of 1975.
Furthermore, in a report carried by The Irish Times on February 20 2008, former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, in response to a question by Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny, said he believed a file existed which would be of assistance in establishing if members of the British forces “were involved in or knew in advance about the killing in 1989 of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane”. Mr Ahern also said senior figures in the British security services were unwilling to share this information with the Irish authorities. Until Britain deals properly with these matters she must be regarded as a hostile and adversarial neighbour.
Furthermore, in light of the report on allegations of collusion between the security forces in the North and loyalist paramilitaries, issued recently by the former Police Ombudsman Nuala O Loan, and the fact that the British government refuses to cooperate with tribunals of inquiries which were set up by an act of the Oireachtas to investigate such claims, it is my view that a visit by Queen Elizabeth is most inappropriate at this time. I look forward to the time when a visit to Ireland by a British head of state will become a normal and uncontroversial event, but clearly that time is not now.
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