Higgins warns against forgetting the Troubles

Valerie Robinson Southern Correspondent

President Michael d Higgins has warned against forgetting the events of the troubles that led to the peace process. Speaking as he left for a four-day visit to Britain, Mr Higgins said that looking towards a peaceful future in the north should not involve any attempt to "wipe the slate clean". The president is the first Irish head of state to make an official state visit to Britain. He will stay at Windsor Castle as a guest of Queen Elizabeth.

Mr Higgins is being accompanied by his wife Sabina as well as the republic's minister for foreign affairs and tanaiste Eamon Gilmore.

A state banquet hosted by the queen at Windsor Castle tonight will be attended by deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and other Irish political figures. taoiseach Enda Kenny has described Mr McGuinness's planned presence at the event as being "part of the building of relationships" between Ireland and Britain and "peoples on both sides of the divide" in the north.

Asked yesterday how the visit might impact the peace process, the president responded: "the peace process is that, it is a process that comes after the formal agreement at one level. Ultimately, it is an exercise in consciousness at the level of community."

Mr Higgins added that the challenge was to "hand to a future generation all of the prospects of the future."

"You are not inviting them to an amnesia about any deep dispute," he said.

"These are a lot of very difficult memories and it would be to my mind wrong to suggest to anyone that you should, as it were, wipe the slate clean."

Mr Higgins told rte that he believed that the queen's 2011 visit to the republic, during which she addressed the relationship between Britain and Ireland, was "doing it the right way". This week's events have been widely welcomed, with SDLP leader Dr Alasdair Mcdonnell saying the visit made "a strong statement about how far we have come in reconciling the relationship between our two islands and presents an opportunity to further that relationship".

He said the visit should inspire the north's political parties to "move the Haass process forward and show our capacity to reflect and act on a similar level of reconciliation, for the good of all of our people". DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said that deputy first minister's decision to attend the state banquet at Windsor Castle was a "tacit acceptance" by Sinn Fein that it had misjudged the public mood in 2011.

"Had Martin McGuinness succeeded in his bid to become president then we can only speculate as to whether this visit would have happened," Mr Dodds said.

"However, there has been a very high bar set by the first minister in his willingness to recognise the Irish administration and to grow the kind of tolerance and mutual respect between the United Kingdom and republic of Ireland which has improved hugely in recent years." The president and Mrs Higgins departed the Casement Aerodrome in Baldonnell yesterday afternoon with full military honours rendered. The couple will be formally greeted by the queen and Prince Philip in Windsor today before travelling by horse-drawn carriage for a ceremonial welcome at the castle. During the visit, Mr Higgins will deliver addresses to both Britain's houses of parliament and meet members of the irish community in England.


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