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UK Politics

President Michael Higgins to make historic first visit to UK by Irish head of state


President Michael D Higgins is to become the first Irish head of state to make an official state visit to the UK. He has accepted an invitation from the Queen for him and his wife, Sabina, to stay at Windsor Castle on 8 April next year.

The three-day state visit follows the Queen’s hugely successful trip to Ireland in 2011.

In remarkable scenes, the Queen paid her respects to republican dead at Dublin's Garden of Remembrance, visited Croke Park - site of the 1920 Bloody Sunday massacre - and made a widely-praised speech on Anglo-Irish history at Dublin Castle.

In what is considered a pivotal moment in relations between both countries, the invite to Ireland from former president Mary McAleese has paved the way for a reciprocal invite for her successor to the UK.

A number of meetings between Mr Higgins - a former Labour government minister, a poet and academic - and members of the Royal family have taken place since his election.

Both he and his wife met the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh in June last year at Belfast's Lyric Theatre.

The President met Princess Anne at a sporting event while the Duke of Kent visited him this year at Aras an Uachtarain, the President's residence in Dublin's Phoenix Park.

Although the Irish head of state has travelled to events in London, Manchester, Liverpool and Scotland over the past year, these were not official visits.

Likewise, previous meetings between the Queen and President McAleese and her predecessor Mary Robinson at various functions in the UK were not official State visits.

Next year's trip will the first time an Irish head of state has been formally invited to the UK by a British sovereign.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he warmly welcomed confirmation that President Higgins will pay an official visit to the UK.

"This is a further demonstration of the warm and positive relationship that now exists between Ireland and the United Kingdom," he said.

"The State Visit in April, following on the very successful visit to Ireland by Queen Elizabeth in 2011, will be a wonderful opportunity to deepen this even further."