As Charles visits Northern Ireland, queen is remembered as voice of reconciliation

PADRAIC HALPIN and AMANDA FERGUSON

KING Charles was urged to keep up his own and his late mother’s efforts towards reconciliation between the divided communities of Northern Ireland when he visited the British-run province on Tuesday to lead mourning for Queen Elizabeth.

Thousands of well-wishers greeted Charles with handshakes, smiles and warm words as he walked along lines of people crowding the streets outside Hillsborough Castle, the monarch’s official residence in the province.

But the visit was also laden with political significance given Britain’s historical record in Ireland and the more recent years of violence in Northern Ireland known as the Troubles.

At a ceremony at Hillsborough Castle, the acting speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Alex Maskey, paid fulsome tribute to the queen and her contribution to reconciliation.

“Queen Elizabeth was not a distant observer in the transformation and progress of relationships in, and between, these islands,” said Maskey, a member of Sinn Fein, which seeks the reunification of Ireland.

“She personally demonstrated how individual acts of positive leadership can help break down barriers and encourage reconciliation,” he said.

Maskey, who was himself interned by the authorities as an Irish Republican Army suspect in the 1970s, said Charles had already shown he understood the importance of reconciliation and was committed to it.

“The challenge for all of us is to renew the work that you and Queen Elizabeth have already done,” he said.

Charles also shook hands warmly with Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O’Neill, the party’s leader in Northern Ireland.

“Thank you so much for the incredibly kind things you said about my mother,” Charles said to O’Neill.

“She played a great role here in terms of reconciliation… It’s the end of an era for sure,” O’Neill said.

King Charles attends a Service of Prayer and Reflection for the Life of Queen Elizabeth II at St Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh, Scotland, Britain, September 12, 2022. Jane Barlow/Pool via REUTERS

SYMBOL OF THE UNION

In 2011, Elizabeth became the first British monarch to visit the Republic of Ireland since independence from London almost a century earlier, a step Prime Minister Micheál Martin described on Thursday as being crucial in the normalisation of relations.

Although a potent symbol of the union, she made powerful gestures of reconciliation for Britain’s bloody past in Ireland during the hugely successful state visit, culminating in a speech in which she expressed regret for centuries of conflict.

A year after her visit to Ireland, the queen, whose cousin Lord Louis Mountbatten was killed by the IRA in 1979, shook the hand of former IRA commander and then Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland Martin McGuinness in Belfast.

It was a milestone in a peace process that largely brought an end to three decades of violence between pro-British, largely Protestant, factions and nationalists, mostly Catholic, seeking to reunite Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Charles, addressing senior politicians at the castle, said he was committed to the welfare of all the people of Northern Ireland. He also paid tribute to Queen Elizabeth.

“My mother saw Northern Ireland pass through momentous and historic changes. Through all those years, she never ceased to pray for the best of times for this place and for its people, whose stories she knew, whose sorrows our family had felt, and for whom she had a great affection and regard,” he said.

LET’S WORK TOGETHER

Earlier on the way to Hillsborough, Charles had stepped out of his car to meet and greet thousands of people lining the streets to welcome him amid chants of “God Save the King”.

“Our friends here in Northern Ireland, we all want to live together, we really do. I think people with different religions recognise the wonderful job she (the queen) did. I really hope we all go forward and support our king,” said Joey McPolin, 77, from Dramore.

Elizabeth died on Thursday in her holiday home at Balmoral Castle, in the Scottish Highlands, at the age of 96, plunging the nation into mourning for a monarch who had reigned for 70 years and was a principal part of the fabric of British life.

Charles, 73, is travelling to the four parts of his new kingdom before the funeral on Monday.

In Scotland, Queen Elizabeth’s flag-draped coffin laid at rest in St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh, where thousands of people filed past it to pay their final respects.

Tens of thousands of mourners had turned out to observe the procession of the coffin along the historic Royal Mile on Monday. After a silent vigil attended by Charles, his sister Anne and brothers Andrew and Edward at the cathedral, people queued overnight to file past the queen’s coffin.

The Scottish government said more than 26,000 people had passed through by the time it closed the queue.

The queen’s coffin will leave Scotland and be flown to London in the early evening and driven to Buckingham Palace. On Wednesday, it will be taken on a gun carriage as part of a grand military procession to Westminster Hall where a period of lying in state will begin until the funeral on Monday.

Members of the public will be allowed to process past the coffin for 24 hours a day until the morning of the funeral.

SUPPORT FOR CHARLES UP

A new poll meanwhile showed Charles has enjoyed a surge in support since he became king. The YouGov survey for the Times newspaper also showed a similar increase in backing for his wife Camilla, the Queen Consort.

Now 63% think he will be a good king, a rise of 24 percentage points since March, while 15% believe he will do a bad job, compared with 31% six months ago, the poll found.

Charles had carved out a role for himself speaking out on issues from climate change to architecture. But critics said he was interfering in political issues that were not matters for the royals, a contrast to his mother who kept her personal opinions hidden throughout her reign. 

Since becoming king, he has repeatedly said he would follow his mother’s example.



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