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Buckingham Palace refused to comment on report that Queen Elizabeth to pay joint visit with Pope to Northern Ireland next year

Queen Elizabeth II with Pope Francis at the Vatican in 2014. Picture by Arthur Edwards/PA Wire

BUCKINGHAM Palace have refused to comment on reports that Queen Elizabeth is to join the Pope on a visit to Northern Ireland next year.

Q Radio has reported that plans for the joint visit in August "are being worked on", although the location "is being kept under wraps".

The Pope is expected to be in Ireland at that time to attend the 2018 World Meeting of Families which runs from August 21-26.

The main events will take place in Dublin, but organisers say related events, including the hosting of international groups, will take place "all over the island".

Any Papal visit to Ireland is likely to include a trip north of the border.

The radio station mooted Armagh and Belfast as possibilities to play host to the two dignitaries.

Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh Richard Clarke described the prospect as "remarkable and wonderful".

When contacted by The Irish News, a press officer for the queen said her engagements for next year are not being made public at this stage.

"The queen's programme of engagements for 2018 will be announced in due course in the usual way," he said.

Announcements from the palace come around a month in advance of any engagement.

Visits by the British royal family to the north are usually kept secret until the last minute for security reasons.

However, Michael Kelly, editor of the Irish Catholic, insisted the joint visit is "not going to happen" and would "over-politicise" what is a pastoral event.

"The Pope comes as a pastoral leader to a particular country or region - his ministry is primarily to the local Catholic community," he told the Scottish Catholic Observer.

"Obviously in the context of somewhere like Northern Ireland, his role is wider than that and is support of the peace process and wider efforts at reconciliation, but it is not a political visit.

"A joint visit with the queen would overly-politicise it and would probably upset some people within the Catholic/broader nationalist community."

Queen Elizabeth, who is 91, has recently taken a step back from `frontline' royal duties, with her son Prince Charles taking over the laying of a wreath at London's Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday this year.

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