The UK and Ireland’s shared past will continue to fill academic discourse for time immemorial.
However, the phenomenal success of last week’s historic state visit to the UK by Irish President Michael D. Higgins has provided the most opportune platform to date from which to shift attention towards our shared present and the potential of our shared future.
I have had a ringside view from the magnificent State Dinner at Windsor Castle to the Northern Ireland themed reception and from our glorious Guildhall to the celebrations at the Royal Albert Hall and they each produced iconic and memorable images, this has truly been a watershed in Anglo-Irish relations.
As chairman of Cooperation Ireland it has been my great pleasure to witness at first hand a chain of historical events which have put – so to speak – the official stamp of approval on the complex, interwoven relationships between our two countries.
Since President McAleese first met Her Majesty the Queen in London in 2005, at a Co-operation Ireland reception, we have been keenly involved in developing relationships between our heads of state. This led to the immensely successful state visit by Her Majesty to Ireland in spring 2011. Three years later, the circle has been completed by the first Irish state visit to the UK.
This normalisation process is evident elsewhere, not least at Stormont where Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness continue to preside over one of the most diverse political coalitions in the democratic world – a feat which would have tested the skills of lesser politicians to breaking point.
Recently, Northern Ireland’s Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers, along with Irish Arts Minister, Jimmy Denihan, laid the foundation stone for a Cross of Sacrifice in Glasnevin for those Irish men and women who fought in common cause with Britain during two world wars. As that Cross of Sacrifice demonstrates, relationships between and among these two islands are complicated – a reminder of the saying that ‘anyone who knows the answer to the Irish Question, obviously doesn’t understand the question’.
As Michael D Higgins identified during the visit, “the challenge is to hand to a future generation all of the prospects of the future.” This vision for the future was shared by Her Majesty who noted that our two nations 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.”
This State Visit was yet another seminal moment in Anglo-Irish history, resting on a groundswell of individual acts of goodwill.
London-based philanthropist and financier Christopher Moran is the chairman of Cooperation Ireland.