Tuesday, 17 May 2011

British Guns on Dublin's Streets

It's not 1911 and not 1921, but 2011 and today, members of the British security services will walk the streets of Dublin, fully armed.

It's an incredible occurrence that until only recently, would've been thought as wholly inconceivable.

Yet today, as a new mark of a new political stability between the United Kingdom and it's nearest neighbour, Queen Elizabeth II will start a truly historic visit to the Republic of Ireland - a full 100 years since her grandfather King George V visited a then constituent part of the British Empire back in 1911.

But following that visit a century ago, there followed bloody confrontations between Irish republicans, the Irish and the British Army as the Irish battled for their independence. The latter decades of the 20th century were dominated by 'The Troubles' in Northern Ireland between Republicans and Unionists during which almost 4,000 died from both sides of the sectarian divide.

It has been a torrid, blood-stained relationship.

During her visit, she will lay a wreath at the Irish Garden of Remembrance in memory of those Irishmen and women who died in the battles against the British and will also visit that bastion of Irish nationalism, Croke Park, the scene of the original Bloody Sunday massacre in 1920 when the the infamous Black and Tans of the British Army, entered the stadium and turned their guns on the crowd and killed 14 spectators and players.

This is not therefore just a typical ceremonial visit but one that will take in emotive places in the Irish psyche. The itinery is bold and brave. It has come at the request of the Irish President Mary McAleese but then, if the Queen was to accept a cordial invitation, the first in a century, then it may as well be made in fulsome reconciliation to cover the old enmities that have scarred the relationship between these two nations.

The Irish financial bailout of recent months has demonstrated the interdependence of European nations in these difficult economic times and the Irish/British trade links are of course strong.

But we're not talking about economics here. We're talking history. We're talking symbolism. We're talking death, grief, anger and pain.

Queen Elizabeth II has in her 59 years on the throne, conducted countless official visits to foreign countries but none of them will quite hold the meaning than the one which is starting today. She has probably walked on the soil of more nation states than any other human being in the world in her 85 years. Yet, remarkably, she has never set foot on the sovereign soil of the one nation that shares a land border with her own. She'll put that right today and in doing so, will formalise in its entirety, the normal diplomatic relations of these two nations.

There are of course security concerns as not all in the Irish Republic will be pleased with this visit and hence there will British security forces on hand, along with the Irish security forces, to ensure that all goes according to plan.

To be precise, the Irish Government is allowing up to 120 armed British police officers to patrol the streets of Irish cities to protect Queen Elizabeth II on her State visit. A force of the Metropolitan Police's royalty protection force carrying Glock pistols and Heckler & Koch submachine guns will join garda√≠ in ensuring her safety. They will be allowed to patrol the streets fully armed wherever Queen Elizabeth goes on her four-day visit, which has sparked the biggest security operation in the history of the State.

This is the way of things and should be taken with a pinch of salt. But just remember, as the footage is screened back to us here in Britain, that this is a remarkable sight. British guns on the streets of Dublin? Extraordinary, but a sure sign that Ireland and the United Kingdom have walked out of the darkness of the 20th century and into a more hopeful and prosperous century where they will learn to co-exist alongside each other in harmony.

1 comment:

  1. Mark,

    Its a shame that centuries of history has soured relations between the UK and Ireland.

    Within the lifetime of many, Britain and Nazi Germany were enemies in a war that threatened democracy, freedom and saw the deaths of millions in concentration camps because of their religion, membership of a Trade Union, sexuality, disability and from minority groups such as gypsies etc...

    Almost 70 years on, the Germany of today and the UK are the best of friends and those emnities are largely consigned to the history books. A warning to everyone how we must protect the rights and freedoms we now enjoy.

    However, the bitterness over the Ireland question has endured for centuries and it does seem completely unwarranted in today's modern world.

    However, whilst we may see Ireland as largely at peace, events in recent weeks still see that there are people who will never support the peace process and are happy to kill policemen and to plant bombs designed to kill innocent people.

    Northern Ireland may be seeing a return to peace, but how can you have a society where you live either in a republican or loyalist area and services are provided in a sectarian manner.

    We dont see this in Great Britain and I am amazed that this is how services are provided.

    Whilst the Queen's visit is to be welcomed, I wonder whether we ever will see an Ireland at peace with itself and its nearest neighbour whilst Northern Ireland is split on sectarian lines as even the events from the 1920's that the Queen will be honouring today, seem to be still as fresh as if it was yesterday.

    Yes, its good that the peace process is working after the 30 years troubles from the 1970's. I was brought up on the troubles as a teenager, watching it on TV and I found it all so sad and a complete waste of lost years as well as the lives lost and damaged property.

    And of course, the Queen lost her beloved Uncle, Earl Mounbatten and several other member of his family, when his boat was blown up by the IRA.

    Would you be able to forgive those who did that to close members of your own family?

    Ireland has a sad history and fault lies on all sides and from what people tell me, things in Northern Ireland are not as peaceful as we are sometimes told.

    I hope the Queen's visit is a success. For the Irish people and Government, as well as the Queen, and that there is no trouble in Dublin or in the UK.