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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 April 2006, 15:58 GMT 16:58 UK
Irish visit poses royal dilemma
Shane Harrison
BBC NI Dublin correspondent

The Duke of Edinburgh
It was the Duke of Edinburgh's second one-day visit to the country
The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, has spent a day presenting awards to young people in Dublin, leading to renewed speculation that the Queen may visit the Irish Republic in the near future.

Prince Philip was a little bit late arriving at Dublin's National Concert Hall for the awards ceremony. But nobody was complaining and Irish President Mary McAleese warmly greeted him as they posed for photographs.

Inside the light green walled auditorium the two got a rousing reception for what President McAleese called a unique occasion.

She and the prince were there to present awards to 91 young adults from north and south of the Irish border who undertook and overcame personal and community challenges.

The president was there as patron of An Gaisce, the Presidents' Awards, which is celebrating its 21st birthday this year and the Duke was in Dublin in his capacity as patron of the Duke of Edinburgh Awards, which have their 50th anniversary this year.

Relations between the two countries have improved dramatically and the dark shadow cast by the problems of Northern Ireland is receding

Afterwards President McAleese hosted a private lunch for the Duke at the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs and shortly afterwards he paid a short courtesy visit to the Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern.

Wherever Prince Philip went the cameras followed, clicking furiously and drowning out the small talk he and others were having.

This was the Duke of Edinburgh's second one-day visit to the Irish Republic and has led to speculation that the Queen may also make a similar trip in the near future.

No reigning British monarch has visited the country since it gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1921.

But relations between the two countries have improved dramatically and the dark shadow cast by the problems of Northern Ireland is receding, especially in the wake of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

The president has often said she would welcome a visit by the Queen but she thought it would happen after the Northern Ireland peace process had been resolved and was agreed to by the two governments.

But while Northern Ireland's violent Troubles may be over it still does not have the power-sharing devolution envisaged in the 1998 Agreement.

The two governments have set a deadline of late November this year for devolution to be restored and this has led some to hope that the Queen may visit the Irish Republic next year.

Relative harmony

But not everybody in Ireland would welcome such a visit. Indeed, there was a small protest by Republican Sinn Fein outside Iveagh House, where the prince and president lunched.

The protesters carried a banner saying that no British royals were welcome in Ireland 'as long as Britain occupied the six counties of Northern Ireland'.

And the recent riots in Dublin over an Orange parade showed that while relations between the two countries are normalising the echoes of the past still have the potential to disrupt the relative modern day harmony.

That is not to say everything is perfect between the two governments.

There are still differences, for example, over Sellafield nuclear plant in Cumbria, which the Irish want shut down, and over what Dublin perceives as a lack of co-operation by the British authorities with enquiries into bombings in the Irish Republic in the 1970s.

But there is no doubt that if the Queen does visit the Irish Republic she will get the traditional 'Cead Mile Failte' or hundred thousand welcomes from most of the main Irish political parties with the possible exception of Sinn Fein.

And many will hope that if and when she does come that her programme will not be all state functions and official business and that the Queen, with her interest in horses, will get a chance to relax at a visit to the races.




SEE ALSO:
Duke in second visit to Ireland
26 Apr 06 |  Europe
Duke in return visit to Ireland
25 Apr 06 |  Europe
Philip in historic visit
10 Nov 98 |  UK News


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