There can’t have been many Irish people who didn’t feel pride and satisfaction at the President’s visit to Britain last week. Readers will know I’m uncomfortable with individual Irish citizens being deferential to British royals and wasn’t too keen on the public aspects of Queen Elizabeth’s visit to the Republic. That’s very different from heads of state and nations observing protocols and showing mutual respect to each other.
It was good to see President Higgins being honoured in Britain. It signified a more normal, neighbourly, relationship between both countries. The Good Friday Agreement has made that possible. Another less important, but none-the-less real, aspect of the visit was its repercussions for unionists. What did our flag protestors make of Royal Windsor bedecked with tricolours? They were flying alongside Union Jacks. It can happen in England but not here in the ultra-loyalist North. The irony of that may well be lost on many but it must, at least at a subliminal level, raise a question for unionists. Can you imagine any circumstances in which both flags could fly together here? Then there was the appearance by Martin McGuinness. His participation reinforced the message that things have changed and changed utterly. Under the old Stormont regime, a nationalist, never mind one with an IRA past, couldn’t have touched a dinner in Windsor Castle even with John Taylor’s infamous barge pole. Peter Robinson had only a walk-on part. Some unionists must have noticed that interesting wee bit of role-reversal.