Northern Ireland

Cameron calls the Queen's visit a 'game changer'

The Queen in Dublin
Image caption The Queen's historic visit to the Republic of Ireland has been widely hailed as success

David Cameron has called the Queen's visit to Ireland this year a "game-changer" in British-Irish relations. BBC Ireland correspondent Mark Simpson examines the significance of the historic trip.

From the moment the Queen arrived on Irish soil wearing a bright green coat, it was clear that her first visit to Ireland was going to be more than a perfunctory state event.

Her decision to speak in Irish at the start of her speech at Dublin Castle surprised everyone in the room.

Rather than coming to Ireland to try to patronise people, the Queen attempted to fit in. Perhaps, that is the reason why 20,000 people were waiting on the streets of Cork for a glimpse of her during the final engagement of her four-day tour.

A documentary on Irish state television RTE, made by award-winning journalist Tommie Gorman, re-traces her footsteps, and talks to the people she met in May - including fishmonger Pat O'Connell, who showed her around the English market in Cork city centre.

The programme also includes an interview with the British diplomat who masterminded the trip, Dublin ambassador Julian King. While some in London and Dublin thought a short trip by the Queen would be advisable, he organised a packed programme criss-crossing the country, with events involving horses, castles, banquets and concerts.

In the end, his ambition was rewarded. The trip passed off with barely a hitch.

The protests were smaller than expected and the level of support was higher than anticipated.

There were a few security scares along along the way, but nothing major. Nothing that was made public, that is.

It was clear that the Irish President Mary McAleese and the Queen got on well personally, which is always a huge advantage for officials on both sides of a state visit.

David Cameron saw at first hand how well the trip went. He was at Dublin Castle for the Queen's speech, which incidentally is the title of the RTE documentary.

Speaking on the programme, the Prime Minister said he found it to be an "very emotional" occasion, and said it had a deep impact, not just on him, but on British-Irish relations.

He said: " I think it's been a game-changer, to use that terrible modern expression.

"I think that what was already a strong relationship ... and what was already becoming warmer and more positive because of the settling down of the Northern Irish issue ... I think her visit has just put that into a massive new perspective."

Image caption The Queen's visit to Dublin was a long time in the planning, as this headline from 1995 shows.

He added: "I think she (the Queen) just warmed the hearts of people. And so this true relationship, that I think had been going on between British people and Irish people for years, has really now been able to flower."

His Irish counterpart, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, also speaks on the documentary, as does the former Irish president Mary Robinson.

Making headlines

Back in December 1995, I was working for the Belfast Telegraph and interviewed the then President Robinson. She outlined her support for a first visit to Ireland by the Queen.

The headline on the front-page story was "Dublin ready to welcome Queen". Little did either of us know that it would take another 16 years to actually happen.

Few would argue that the visit, when it eventually did take place, was a success, and that it put British-Irish relations on a new footing.

However, there is still not complete harmony between the British and Irish governments, as proven by the recent difference of opinion over the handling of the investigation into the death of murdered Belfast lawyer Pat Finucane.

Nonetheless, the disagreement is unlikely to de-rail state relations. Already there is speculation about the Queen returning to Ireland to see horse-racing, or the new Irish President Michael D Higgins making a state visit to the UK.

There is even talk about Prince William and his wife, Kate, making the short trip across the Irish Sea at some stage.

Nothing has been confirmed, but it would be a surprise if the new Irish President was not invited to Buckingham Palace in the next few years.

I wonder if he will wear red, white and blue?

The Queen's Speech is being shown on RTE One at 21:30 GMT on Tuesday.

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