Leading article: A visit that will test how far two countries have come

Share
Related Topics

This is a state visit like no other. No walkabouts, no crowds of schoolchildren waving Union Jacks and an awful lot of police and security barriers. Try as politicians might to present the Queen's arrival in Ireland as evidence of just how normal Anglo-Irish relations have become, they're still not quite.

The first visit of a British head of state since independence was always bound to stir memories, at least in some quarters, of the tragic and troubled relationship these islands have had for much of their long, shared past. From whether Irish leaders will curtsy to the Queen to whether she will acknowledge bitter memories about the Famine of the 1840s and the Partition of 1921, a cloud of potential difficulties surrounds the whole event. It will require surefootedness on the part of the Queen and her advisers to ensure that a long-overdue state trip helps, not hinders, the still incomplete healing process between the two countries.

What the Queen has to try to do in Ireland is to acknowledge the complex and fraught nature of British-Irish history – unique, in fact, because Ireland is the only independent European state that Britain once ruled – without allowing ghosts of a sombre past to overshadow the sunnier present. What most people in Ireland will make of it all is hard to say. But it would be unfortunate if the predictable protests of an embittered minority were allowed to overshadow the mix of indifference, curiosity and genuine enthusiasm with which most Irish people probably regard the Queen's presence on Irish soil.

If there aren't too many security alarums from outraged keepers of the Fenian flame, the royal tour will be an occasion to celebrate the almost miraculous transformation in relations between Britain and Ireland, especially since the signing of the Good Friday agreement in 1995, which helped desensitise the neuralgic subject of Northern Ireland. We tend to forget just how rotten those relations were within living memory, from the fraught 1940s, when Irish neutrality in the Second World War prompted Winston Churchill to contemplate invading the country – again – to the 1970s, when a mob in Dublin burnt down the British Embassy in retaliation for the Bloody Sunday shootings in Derry.

Today, thank goodness, we live in a different world. From the British cult of Jedward to Irish interest in "Kate and Wills" – considerable, if Irish viewing figures of the royal wedding are anything to go by – the two cultures reveal a growing tendency towards convergence, even if only at the level of a joint fascination with celebrities.

What has taken much of the sting out of Anglo-Irish friction, meanwhile, has been Ireland's economic revival since the 1980s. Right now, any mention of the Celtic Tiger, unless it is ironic, evokes derision. But it would be absurd to suggest that Ireland's serious economic difficulties threaten to recreate the grimly poor society that existed only a few decades ago, and when almost the only option facing anyone of ambition was to emigrate. The fact that the Queen is visiting Ireland at a time of economic flux should be put to good use. As a new government wrestles with the crisis, this is an opportunity for Ireland to show off its continuing potential as well as its most inexhaustible asset, its natural beauty.

The Anglo-Irish relationship will never be as normal, cloudless – and distant – as this country's ties to, say, Holland or Denmark, and no royal visit will change that. Our relations could still be better, and would be, if in this country we paid more heed to the horrors visited on Ireland in Britain's name, and if everyone in Ireland was willing to let go of the past. Reconciliation remains a work a progress. The reaction in Ireland to a British monarch's presence will be a sign of how far we have come, and have yet to go.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Ed Miliband and David Cameron  

Cameron and Miliband should have faith in their bolder policies

Ian Birrell
Andreas Lubitz runs the Airport Race half marathon in Hamburg on 13 September 2009  

Being sensitive to mental health need not lead us to downplay the horror of what Lubitz did

Will Gore
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing