Thursday, 24 June 2010
Queen to visit Republic of Ireland
If Irish prime minister Brian Cowen is to be believed the Queen may become the first British monarch to visit the Irish Republic since the partition of the island in 1921. The comments come after a meeting between himself and David Cameron and arrangements between officials in London and Dublin are apparently under discusion; the Queen has been to Northern Ireland on several occasions but has never ventured across the border.
So far reactions in Ireland have been mixed, which is perhaps not surprising given the at-times acrimonious relationship between that state and the rest of the United Kingdom and the matter of an independent Irish nation comprised of just 26 counties. Cowen has has said that he believes that "the importance of an exchange of state visits says a lot about the modern bilateral relationships we now have" but Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has condemned the move, instead arguing that "until there is complete withdrawal of the British military and the British administration from Ireland, and until there is justice and truth for victims of collusion, no official welcome should be accorded to any officer of the British armed forces of any rank." This is despite Northern Ireland's democratically expressed wish to remain a part of the United Kingdom, the Queen's position as constitutional head of that territory and the end of the army's Operation Banner in 2007.
My own opposition to the principle of monarchy - constitutional or otherwise - has been longstanding; I believe that there is no place for an unelected individual to become the head of a country via the genetic and nepotistic lottery of birth. Political equality within the UK will be one step closer to reality when such a position is abolished.
But Ó Caoláin's opposition to a Royal visit is not motivated by any real adherence to republican ideals but rather from the resentment that a large section of the population within Northern Ireland do not wish to become a part of an independent Irish state. That the Queen lost members of her own family in an IRA attack off the coast of Sligo in 1979 shows that the search for "truth and justice" is not one-sided.
It's difficult to say whether royal visits are worthwhile, or whether the relatively ceremonial position the monarchy occupies means that their foreign excursions really do carry more weight than those made by elected politicians. But Britain's relationship with Ireland has, since the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, approached diplomatic normalcy. The symbolic nature of an official visit to Dublin by a British monarch may in itself be good enough cause to have one in the first place.