Dear Mrs Robinson, I thought I'd drop you a line before we meet: Cal McCrystal invents a historic letter from the Queen to her guest

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The Independent Online
Dear President Robinson,

You will think me negligent not to have written earlier. I do so now - belatedly - in this private note with two objectives in mind: that you will believe that no one rejoices more than I at the prospect of this truly historic occasion - the first meeting between an Irish head of state and a British monarch since Ireland achieved its independence in 1922; and that I may confide in you my thoughts on the present state of relations between our nations.

How wonderful it would be if we two women, open-minded and willing to transcend 'political realities', within the constraints of our positions, could find the magic formula.

On a recent evening, while browsing through Irish volumes (in anticipation of your visit), I came across a quotation from the title page of The Face and Mind of Ireland, published in 1949, four years before my Coronation. It said: 'Placed between memory and hope, the race will never conquer what it desires, and it will never discover what it regrets.'

The quotation is a poignant reminder of the tragic history of relations between our two countries. You would have been a girl in 1949 when the Ireland Act was passed at Westminster, declaring a special relationship between Irish citizens and the United Kingdom. Alas, that year also saw the departure of the Irish Republic from the Commonwealth.

One cannot rewrite history (though sometimes how I wish one could]) But more recent events - the terrorist bombs in London and in Northern Ireland, the continuing sectarian killings - help us to recall and focus on it, to reach back in time for guidance towards the future. In doing so, I fear there is not much to my country's credit in its dealings with yours - whether it is the Plantation of Ulster, the subsequent repression of the native Irish, or the partition of the island in 1920. I cannot be sure if Elizabeth I actually planned her 16th century conquest of Ulster, but I am fairly certain that her vacillating policies prolonged its agony. Whether it is possible for my Government to withdraw from that desperate Province without unduly prolonging the agony remains anybody's guess, don't you think?

My conscience tilts towards a withdrawal, although I realise that to do so without impeccable planning could impose dreadful sacrifices all round (not least, one gathers, on your Republic, whose people seem unenthusiastic about reunification). And I hope I'm not breaking confidences when I tell you that most of my ministers would dearly love to initiate the steps that would end our commitment to Northern Ireland.

From your own discussions with Unionists and Nationalists you will know how intractable the problem is. When I came to the throne as a young woman in 1953 there was much talk about a 'new Elizabethan Age'. I wish I knew what that meant, apart from the end of Empire. My country has changed profoundly, as I know yours has too. There has been a liberation from all kinds of conventions and constraints, but some habits die hard.

There was a time when I was encouraged to believe that my reign might also coincide with a final peaceful reconciliation between all of Ireland and my kingdom. Perhaps we may both live to see it, but it is hard to be optimistic. IRA terrorists have struck at the heart of the City of London and other towns and cities. Those who describe themselves as Loyalists sometimes seem bent on obstructing progress towards a peaceful solution. I know that you have met some of them and have sympathy for their claim to have been brushed aside for the 1985 Anglo-Irish treaty.

But can I gratefully approve the allegiance of people of such biased views and excessive temper? Despite their desire to uphold the Protestant church over which I preside, some of them fill me with dismay. Their behaviour has vexed me personally, as when that strange man, Ian Paisley, denounced my own mother and sister ('for committing spiritual fornication with the Anti-Christ']) on visiting Pope John in 1958 - a full decade before the present disturbances began.

I will say to you in confidence that, were I to be asked for my advice on the matter, I should ask my ministers to: (1) make a more determined effort to eradicate terrorism from my realm; and (2) to persuade the people of Ulster thereupon to accept a closer relationship with their southern neighbours. If republicanism is allowed to succeed in its violent form in Northern Ireland, who knows where it may spread.

To you, let me present my motives as being directed beyond that place 'between memory and hope' referred to earlier. In so doing, I concede that my role has awkward resonances. A Protestant monarch cannot easily become an anti-sectarian symbol. While you, a Roman Catholic president, are married to a Protestant, my kingdom would not tolerate such a union. I recognise that many of my subjects regard the constitutional disbarment of Roman Catholics from the British throne as an anachronism.

And I very much regret that this religious exclusivism is often used in Northern Ireland to justify discrimination against my Roman Catholic subjects there, and to shun contact with your own country to such an extent that the Lord Mayor of Belfast refused to receive you during your visit to Northern Ireland last year.

I also regret the lack of official contact between the British monarchy and the Irish state. Of course, members of my family, past and present, have enjoyed a familiarity with Ireland and have spoken of it and its people with affection and admiration. Even the tragic murder of my beloved kinsman Lord Mountbatten in County Sligo 14 years ago has failed to dim their regard. I hope you understand, therefore, my genuine desire to be able one day to be received by you in Phoenix Park, home of former British Viceroys to Ireland.

The 1949 Ireland Act declared that Northern Ireland would remain within my kingdom unless its parliament should decide otherwise. At the moment its parliament is not in Belfast but in London. I believe that this geographical fact, coupled with a political one (that our respective countries no longer have prime ministers wedded to the past - or exchequers - capable of maintaining the uneasy status quo) may yield some prospect of ending the tragedy that long ago befell Anglo-Irish relations.

I pray that the joyous atmosphere which will mark our meeting will imbue our respective peoples before too long. May we be favoured with opportunities to continue this correspondence.

Yours sincerely,

Elizabeth R

(Photographs omitted)

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