Three-day visit by Queen gives Royal seal to progress

Morning View
Morning View

Today marks the Queen’s 21st visit to Northern Ireland since her accession to the throne in February 1952, more than 62 years ago.

Britain and the world have changed much in that time.

Curiously, though, in some key respects the Province is more similar in 2014 to how it was in 1952, than to how it was in the middle point of that time span, in the 1970s and 80s.

Then the Troubles were raging and Royal visits were so fraught with risk that the monarch only visited once in the 25-year period between her 1966 and 1991 trips to Ulster.

That was in August 1977, during her silver jubilee tour of the UK. The Provisional IRA tried hard to scare off that visit by intensifying its campaign of violence, but it went ahead, albeit with a heavily constrained itinerary.

Anyone who witnessed that visit, and the enthralled crowds that it brought out, will remember it vividly.

The fact that it went ahead was of major psychological importance to those many people who cherish the British link.

So much has changed since those bleak days in the 1970s.

The Queen has visited the Province 12 times since 2000, almost annually.

With Prince Philip, she visited the Republic for the first time in her life in 2011, to a rapturous reception.

The following year the Queen shook hands with Martin McGuinness, a former IRA commander.

It has been two years since that last visit by the head of state, but the minor delay in her return will be made up for by the fact that this is a visit that is spread over three days.

Perhaps the event that most illustrates the progress that has been made in Northern Ireland will be tomorrow’s visit with the Duke of Edinburgh to the Game of Thrones studio.

In 1977, it would have been inconceivable that a blockbuster such as that would have considered filming in the Province. Now the HBO series plays a notable part in our economy.

This week’s visit gives a Royal seal of approval to that progress.