Speaking about the State Visit by The Queen, the Foreign Secretary said:
“It is a historic event, that’s not misusing this word, it is the first ever state visit to Ireland by a British monarch. The Queen has made over three hundred overseas visits but this one is particularly special; a visit to our nearest neighbour with which we have uniquely close links and which is also, as you have said, one of our most important trading partners as well.
And I know that Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh have been not only very much looking forward to their visit they have been delighted today by the warmth of the welcome from the President, from the Ministers and very much, indeed, from the people of Ireland.
This visit represents an important moment in British and Irish history. It marks the transformation of the relationship between Britain and Ireland in recent years, the strength of our economic, political and family ties and the progress that has been made in Northern Ireland as well. And it provides an excellent opportunity to celebrate all of these things and to place the emphasis on making the links even stronger for the future.
It’s estimated that six million people in the UK have an Irish parent or grandparent and more than a hundred thousand people currently living in the Republic were born in the United Kingdom. The, the large Irish community in Britain has made a huge contribution right across British society. Our bilateral trade, as you have said Eamon, is vital to both our economies. The value of UK exports to Ireland is greater than the combined value of our exports to China, India, Brazil and Russia all put together and the UK is Ireland’s biggest trading partner.
Irish companies and business people make a huge contribution to our commercial life and the transport links speak for themselves with over two hundred flights a day between our airports. And the natural beauty of both of our countries, the fascinating cultural heritage of which we’ve some today, as well as a whole vibrant contemporary cultural scene means that we’ve got a very healthy exchange of tourists; about three million tourists in each direction in the last year. The common travel area plays an important part in the tourism and I very much welcome the announcement by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Alan Shatter, on new visa waiver arrangements for visitors holding a UK visa to also visit Ireland. And we hope this will result in an increase in trade and tourism between our two countries.
That’s an example of the unique cooperation between our countries. The Governments of the UK and Ireland enjoy a warm relationship, working together on a wide range of international challenges from revitalising the work of the European Union, to preventing climate change, seeking solutions on key international issues such as the Middle East peace process, things that we have been discussing over the last couple of weeks. Last week we, we were meeting to discuss the momentous events in Libya and the, North Africa and the wider Middle East. We particularly welcome the long standing Irish peace keeping commitment in Southern Lebanon.
So without doubt relations between our countries have advanced hugely in recent times. This has been seen, most importantly, through the partnership of successive Irish and British Governments together with the Northern Ireland political parties on the peace process.
So I think to, today’s events are an important day, they’re important events in the history of both countries and based on the short time we’ve had here so far I’ve been hugely impressed with the commitment to this relationship. This visit is an opportunity for all of us to reflect on how far we’ve come and reflect on the reality that Ireland and the UK share a modern partnership rooted in friendship and mutual respect and we’re all greatly looking forward to the rest of this state visit. Thank you very much.”
The Foreign Secretary is in Ireland accompanying The Queen on the first State Visit by a British Monarch to the Republic of Ireland.