The Queen has said that Britain and Ireland shall “no longer allow our past to ensnare our future” at a historic state banquet in honour of President Michael D Higgins.
Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness stood and joined in a toast to the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and the people of the UK, as an orchestra played God Save The Queen.
In her speech, in front of the political elite and stars including Daniel Day-Lewis, Dame Judi Dench and Irish rugby star Brian O’Driscoll, the Queen said the goal of modern British-Irish relations can be “simply stated”.
She said: “It is that we, who inhabit these islands, should live together as neighbours and friends. Respectful of each other’s nationhood, sovereignty and traditions.
“Cooperating to our mutual benefit. At ease in each other’s company.
“After so much chequered history, the avoidable and regrettable pain of which is still felt by many of us, this goal is now within reach.
“I started by speaking of 10 centuries of history. But there is a balance to be struck between looking back at what has happened, and cannot be changed; and looking forward to what could happen, if we have the will and determination to shape it.
“My visit to Ireland, and your visit this week, Mr President, show that we are walking together towards a brighter, more settled future.
“We will remember our past, but we shall no longer allow our past to ensnare our future. This is the greatest gift we can give to succeeding generations.”
She also acknowledged the “discrimination and a lack of appreciation” once faced by Irish people in Britain, adding: “Happily, those days are now behind us, and it is widely recognised that Britain is a better place because of the Irish people who live here.”
The Queen also made reference to the peace process in Northern Ireland.
“Our two governments will continue to work together in Northern Ireland to support the First and Deputy First Minister and the Executive to advance the peace process and to establish a shared society based on mutual respect and equality of opportunity,” she said.
The Queen shook hands with all the guests at the banquet, including Mr McGuinness, who was seated next to Sir Paul Nurse, president of the Royal Society, and Shami Chakrabarti, director of campaign group Liberty.
The state visit to Ireland by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh in May 2011 paved the way for the present visit.
In his own speech, which featured a few words of Irish, President Higgins made reference to the Queen’s historic visit, in which she “admirably” did not “shy away from the shadows of the past”.
He said: “It laid the basis for an authentic and ethical hospitality between our two countries.
“Admirably, you chose not to shy away from the shadows of the past, recognising that they cannot be ignored when we consider the relationship between our islands.”
President Higgins said her “apt and considered words when you addressed some of the painful moments of our mutual history” were valued.
He said people were “moved” by the Queen’s gestures of respect at sites of national historical significance in Ireland, and he echoed her own words, saying: “While the past must be respectfully recognised, it must not imperil the potential of the present or the possibilities of the future – ar feidireachtai gan teorainn – our endless possibilities, working together.”
Acknowledging that shadows had been cast both by “conquest and resistance”, Mr Higgins said their two countries “live in both the shadow and in the shelter of one another, and so it has been since the dawn of history”.