Tag Archives: Queen Elizabeth II

Irish president skips meet with British queen

Irish President Michael D. Higgins’ decision to decline an invitation to attend an October ecumenical religious service commemorating the centenary of North Ireland–an event Queen Elizabeth II is expected to attend–has set off a firestorm of criticism.

Bobby McDonagh, a former Irish ambassador to London, Brussels, and Rome, weighed the go/no go quandary for The Irish Times:

On the one hand, the president, as someone who has been and remains to the forefront in promoting reconciliation, could have decided to attend the event. He could have noted that the intention was to “mark” rather than to “celebrate” the controversial events of a hundred years ago. He could have attended the religious service in the spirit in which the church leaders who issued the invitation no doubt intended it, as a prayerful ceremony to reflect on past events that have led to a century of much pain and heartache on all sides.

On the other hand, the president will have been aware that partition remains a deeply controversial and contested issue across the island and that many in Northern Ireland regard him as their president. He will have understood that the distinction between “marking” and “celebrating” can be deliberately muddied and would have been, by some, in this instance. He may have considered that the wording of the invitation, even if it refers to acknowledging failures and hurts, did not fully capture the organizers’ intention of marking the full complexity of our history, including radically divergent views on partition. He was also aware of his obligation to avoid political controversy; indeed in 2016 he pulled out of an event in Belfast to mark the Easter Rising because it did not have cross-community support.

Higgins made a state visit to the United Kingdom in 2014, including a stop at Windsor Castle, three years after the monarch visited the Republic of Ireland. Nevertheless, Ulster unionists (who declined to attend the 2018 visit of Pope Francis to the republic) have characterized Higgins’ decision as a snub to the queen. It’s certainly a distraction from their sinking poll numbers and ongoing struggles with Brexit and COVID-19.

Queen Elizabeth and Michael Higgins, with spouses and others trailing, in 2014. Photo from office of the President of Ireland.

Higgins has also faced some criticism at home. He told the Times:

There is no question of any snub intended to anybody. I am not snubbing anyone and I am not part of anyone’s boycott of any other events in Northern Ireland. I wish their service well but they understand that I have the right to exercise a discretion as to what I think is appropriate for my attendance.

Leaders of the Roman Catholic Church, Church of Ireland, Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Methodist Church in Ireland, and the Irish Council of Churches have said they will attend the Oct. 21 event. I expect there will be further developments over the coming month.

Joining 90th birthday wishes for Queen Elizabeth II

Queen Elizabeth II, who last September became the longest-reigning monarch in British history–64 years and counting–turns 90 on 21 April.

“Through seven decades, she has remained gloriously and relentlessly enigmatic in one of her signature pastel outfits and colorful hats,” writes The New York Times. “The queen could be forgiven for showing emotion when she blows out her candles. But it is unlikely.”

I’m a republican more than any fan of the monarchy, British or otherwise. But I’ve admired this queen since her historic 2011 visit to Ireland. So does Father Matt Malone, S.J., editor in chief of America: The National Catholic Review. In his 18 April “Of Many Things” column, he writes:

[S]he was determined to make the trip, motivated in large part by her sense of Christian duty to reconcile the estranged, to be a healer of the breach. “God sent into the world a unique person—neither a philosopher nor a general (important though they are)—but a Saviour, with the power to forgive,” she said in her Christmas broadcast that year. “Forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian faith. It can heal broken families, it can restore friendships and it can reconcile divided communities. It is in forgiveness that we feel the power of God’s love.”

…the queen’s visit to the republic was not just a moment of reconciliation between two long-estranged peoples, but her personal act of forgiveness. When Lord Louis Mountbatten was killed by agents of the Irish Republican Army in the summer of 1979, the queen suffered the loss of one of the most beloved members of her family … It was a truly extraordinary moment, therefore, when she laid a wreath at a memorial garden in Dublin dedicated to the memory of “all those who gave their lives in the cause of Irish Freedom.” She had somehow found the courage within her to forgive, to rebuild, to begin anew. …

In the course of a century, the editors of this magazine have unashamedly championed the cause of Irish freedom. In doing so, we have had a few unkind words to say about the British and the queen’s predecessors. As we mark the centenary of the Easter Uprising, we celebrate the fulfillment of our forebears’ dreams, but we also repent of what we too have done and failed to do. Yet in repentance there is hope, the very hope we saw during those mid-May days in 2011.

In June 2012, in Belfast, the queen and former IRA commander Martin McGuinness had one of the world’s most celebrated handshakes. Two years later, McGuinness accepted the queen’s invitation to attend a British state banquet at Windsor Castle. By then, many of us had grown used to seeing soaring sounders of swine.

Earlier this year, a 12-year-old schoolboy from Dublin wrote a letter to the queen asking for “the return of the six counties” of Northern Ireland, which were partitioned from the rest of the island in 1921 and today remain part of the United Kingdom. Buckingham Palace politely replied to the boy that Her Majesty does not intervene in such matters. “As a constitutional Sovereign, the Queen acts on the advice of her Ministers and remains strictly non-political at all times.”

And so a birthday bonfire will burn atop Slieve Donard in County Down, as well as the highest peaks of Scotland, Wales and England, in addition to all the other pomp to mark Elizabeth’s 90th. I’ll just add: Sláinte!

McGuinness to attend state banquet in Britian

Former IRA commander and Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has accepted an invitation to attend a British state banquet hosted by Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle.

The Irish Times and other media outlets report that McGuinness will attend the 8 April banquet, which honors Irish President Michael D. Higgins. It is the first official visit by an Irish head of state since the modern political separation of the two islands began in 1922.

McGuinness and the Queen shake hands in Belfast, July 2012.

McGuinness and the Queen shake hands in Belfast, July 2012.

The Wall Street Journal said the visit “is designed to underscore Ireland’s evolving acceptance that, before independence in 1922, its people weren’t always unwilling participants in the U.K. and the global empire it led, and the shared history of the two nations is less deeply antagonistic than once claimed by Irish nation builders.”

The Journal‘s story continues:

The exchange of official visits is the latest in a series of steps that have taken place over the last three decades and have marked a gradual but steady mending of fences between the two nations, once bitterly divided over the fate of the six Irish counties that remain a part of the U.K. … The formal process of reconciliation has lagged behind deepening links between British and Irish people. A quarter of British people have some recent Irish forbears, while 50,000 directors of current British companies were born in Ireland.

Of the Northern Ireland republican, the BBC says:

As a youth, Martin McGuinness wore the uniform of an IRA volunteer – secretly, illegally and defiantly. Now, decades later, he will don a white tie and tails and publicly, cheerfully and – perhaps -still defiantly, attend the Queen’s banquet at Windsor Castle. We should not be too surprised. His journey has already seen him shake the hand of the Queen. Not to attend the first state visit of an Irish president would undermine all his promises, made as an Irish presidential candidate, that he would work for peace.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams noted that McGuinness’s attendance might be a bridge too far for some republicans. “I would appeal to them to view this positively in the context of republican and democratic objectives and the interests of unity and peace on this island,” he said.