The public nature of the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh’s latest visit to Northern Ireland reflects changing times in the region, the First Minister has said.
Ahead of the Royal couple’s arrival in Belfast last night, Peter Robinson expressed hope that the open nature of their schedule would allow lots of people the opportunity to greet them.
While past visits have seen the Queen’s itinerary closely guarded due to security fears, this week’s engagements in the region have been publicised in advance.
“It is a sign of changed times that the logistics of this visit could be announced before Her Majesty The Queen’s arrival,” said Mr Robinson, who described the visit as a “great honour” for Northern Ireland.
“There was a time when a Royal visit could not be reported in advance due to security concerns.
“I trust that lots of people will have the opportunity to greet Her Majesty The Queen over the next few days and express their gratitude for the wonderful leadership she has shown throughout her reign.”
The DUP leader and Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness had a private audience with the Queen at Hillsborough Castle last night. Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers also attended.
The encounter was the third time the Queen and former IRA commander Mr McGuinness have met.
Today, Mr McGuinness will accompany the Royal couple on a tour of the old Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast – a facility the politician was detained in himself during the Troubles.
Once a prison synonymous with the dark years of the conflict, its transformation into a popular visitor attraction is symbolic of Northern Ireland’s journey away from conflict.
Other engagements include a visit to the set of hit US fantasy drama Game Of Thrones in east Belfast.
The Queen and Duke will tour the Painthall studios in the city’s regenerated docklands where much of the popular HBO series is filmed.
Game Of Thrones is estimated to be the biggest TV production in Europe and its first four seasons have been credited with bringing a direct economic benefit of £82 million to Northern Ireland, creating the equivalent of more than 900 full-time and 5,700 part-time jobs.
The Royal couple will also tour the bustling St George’s Market in Belfast city centre, be guests at a reception and lunch at Belfast City Hall and attend a garden party at Hillsborough Castle.