The fourth meeting between Mary McAleese, President of Ireland, and
Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, may prove to be as groundbreaking as their first, seven years ago.
The President and the Queen shook hands and chatted for about 20 minutes at Hillsborough Castle outside Belfast last week, the first time they have met in the territory where they are both considered to be the head of state.
Their first meeting on the island of Ireland was an indication of the increasingly relaxed relations between the old enemies and is believed to herald a visit to the Republic by Queen Elizabeth.
McAleese said the meeting marked “a very special day for Anglo-Irish relationships.”
She said the Queen’s arrival in the Republic would signal “the final confirmation of the peace process in Northern Ireland.”
“Things are going in the right direction, so the day gets nearer,” she added.
A royal visit to the Republic would be the first trip to southern Ireland by a British monarch since 1911, a decade before independence.
While still a sensitive issue, both Irish and British officials say that visit is inevitable, although officially no date has been set.
Last week’s meeting was described as private, although cameras were admitted for a handshake between the two women.
British officials denied claims that the meeting had been arranged to bury the decision to drop charges in an IRA spying case that wrecked powersharing in Belfast three years ago.
McAleese later attended the Belfast premiere of “Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” the film based on the children’s book by Belfast-born author C.S. Lewis.