20 May 2011 One Comment by The Northern Standard

Whether one welcomes it or resents it, it is impossible in the week that’s in it to ignore the visit of the British Queen to our shores.
While it is difficult to assess fully the nature and impact of an occasion that is still in progress, it seems fair to say that the immediate impression left upon Irish people will have confounded expectations.
The unprecedented security operation attendant to the royal visit was much signposted in the media but its elaborate and somewhat overbearing extent will have only hit home when it came into full activation.
Aside from the considerable practical inconvenience to everyday life generated in the capital and the other areas on the Queen’s itinerary, the huge visible security presence on Irish streets, and the elements of visible and covert surveillance attendant to the operation have surely generated a more general discomfort.
While the Queen’s presence on Irish soil is being championed by Irish and British politicians as evidence of the normalisation of relations between our two countries, the fact that such security has been deemed necessary suggests that those relations are as yet far from normal.
Yet these measures have arguably been justified by the detection and disarming of a number of explosive devices, and the bomb threats in London made on the first day of the visit.
Such occurrences are sobering evidence of the persistence amid the progressive pattern of peace building this island has enjoyed in recent times of the atavistic malice of a dangerous minority of extremist opinion intent on plunging the country back into the darkness of sectarian conflict.
But there is a danger that the measures used to protect the royal party and the public in general from this threat will, inadvertently or otherwise, impinge on the rights of those who wish to convey their objections to this visit through peaceful, principled protest.
That would be regrettable and counterproductive, generating a legacy of resentment that would negate a considerable degree of whatever enhanced rapport between the Irish and British peoples this diplomatic exercise leaves in its wake.
Irish people who wish to enjoy the visit at close quarters, whether they view the Queen as a significant visitor in political or historical terms or merely as a world celebrity, will perhaps also have been taken aback by the lack of direct engagement with the public that, it seems, will hallmark this occasion.
Security is also a factor here, but the physical and emotional distance also derives from the nature of sovereignty itself.
The history and protocol of British monarchy imbues the public activities of royalty with an elevated, elaborate formality that appears, thus far at any rate, to have been transferred to this visit with little or no concession to the interactivity that Irish people have grown accustomed to enjoying from their State figures on all but the most solemn occasions.
Inability to sufficiently facilitate legitimate protest while keeping the illegitimate form at bay is one potentially adverse outcome of the visit. Another could surely be the denying to the many Irish people who wish to afford the Queen a warm and genuine welcome sufficient opportunity to do so at reasonably close proximity.
These miscalculations aside, history is undoubtedly taking place in our country this week. Many of the functions being performed by the Queen are highly significant, and could not have been envisaged not just in the years before the Good Friday Agreement but also in its immediate aftermath.
The laying by the Queen of a wreath in the Garden of Remembrance, for example, has immensely powerful symbolic significance, suggesting that, as Belfast’s Van Morrison has sung, the healing has begun.
Another very important wreath-laying ceremony took place closer to home on Tuesday, performed by the members of Monaghan Town Council in Church Square to mark the 37th anniversary of the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings. The Council was later in the morning represented by its Cathaoireach, Robbie Gallagher, at commemoration ceremonies in Dublin organised by the Justice for the Forgotten group.
As was emphasised in an important Dáil debate on the same day led by Sinn Féin TD for Cavan/Monaghan Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, the demand by survivors and victims’ relatives of the 1974 bombings for unrestricted access to material held by the British Government that could throw light on those atrocities remains shamefully unaddressed.
Hope has been expressed that the occasion of the Queen’s visit would prompt a concessionary response to this appeal. While it is unlikely that the Queen herself will make any reference to the call, the presence of British Prime Minister David Cameron in this country for portion of her visit, and the undertaking by Taoiseach Enda Kenny to press him on the matter, offers an opportunity that cannot in all conscience be let pass by the British Government to contribute to the healing of one of the most grievous wounds of our time of conflict.
Some decried the coincidence of the Queen’s arrival in Ireland with the anniversary of the bombings as crass insensitivity. That charge will remain as a blight on the royal visit, and form a damning indictment of the British and Irish administrators involved in its arrangement, if this occasion is let past without a meaningful indication of British willingness to have justice finally done for the 34 people who lost their lives in the Dublin and Monaghan bombings.
For those who have campaigned on this issue for many years, the healing has yet to begin. It will be sincerely hoped by our entire readership that these people do not remain forgotten by the Irish and British Governments who are placing so much emphasis on the reconciliation signified by the current royal visit.

One Comment »

  • Liam Flanagan said:

    May I commend the Northern Standard for a well balanced and much more realistic view on the ‘Royal’ visit to Ireland last week? Some of the comments by political figures and more especially the ‘Dublin’ press on the significance of this ‘visit’ would have us believe that a line can be drawn under all that has gone before in our troubled islands history and the only way now to deal with our relationship is to look only to the future. If it was only that simple. Sure look to the future and build on these new developments in Anglo Irish relationships however there is still an enormous legacy of unresolved issues on this island which can not be resolved without addressing what has happened in the past one example locally (covered in the same edition) is the Monaghan bombing and numerous such incidence north of the border.Brodening the argument we have a large minority of ‘nationalist’ people in the north who have for decades been marginalised to a greater extent by the southern state and to take it back even further there does not appear to be any general consensus by the southern government to move towards rebuilding meaningful relationships with the unionist people of the six counties to help create conditions whereby we can truly work towards an all inclusive structure on this island which could be reflective of what many great Irish men of the past (both Protestant & Catholic) envisaged. To utter publicly such opinions now in Ireland your more likely to greeted with a response of “you need to move on” and not live in the past or an assumption made that your part of a former militant republican group. Me for one am sick & tired of feeling that my opinion is invalid and dismissed as old hat. I am not and never have been a member of any political party or movement however I have a belief that the prosperity & successful economic future of Ireland will be best served by a strong cohesive all island unitary regime which allows all of our citizens equal opportunities and rights to live in peace side by side catholic protestant and dissenter. Your heading ‘has the healing begun..?’ is a valid question. The true worth of the ‘queens’ visit will only be measured in years to come, should as I hope that this has now opened the prospect and removed barriers to allow both closer and more trusted relationships develop between the people of all Ireland and our neighbours in Britin.The real architect of what happened last week and the women who I believes should be showered with accolades is our own esteemed president Mary McAleece.She has been a wonderful servant to our nation and has worked tirelessly in her terms in office to build bridges across the divide on this island. The men & women who brought the ‘Good Friday Agreement’ about laid the foundation but Mary McAleece was the one who opened up the agenda to wider prospects and who had the vision of what this visit could achieve. I think the healing has just begun its now up to the rest of us to ensure we do not let this opportunity to unite the people of Ireland pass.