Ex-president Mary McAleese hails transformed relations between UK and Ireland

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Former president Mary McAleese has hailed the transformation in relations between the UK and Ireland in the 100 years since Dublin’s Easter Rising.

In a speech to MPs and peers in the Palace of Westminster, Mrs McAleese discussed how once-fraught diplomatic links across the Irish Sea were now positive.

Her address covered the Easter rebellion against British rule in 1916, the Troubles in Northern Ireland and the subsequent peace process that brought that conflict to an end.

She referred to the Queen’s historic visit to Ireland in 2011 and also noted Ireland and Britain entered into the European Union on the same day in 1973.

The event was organised by the All Party Parliamentary Group on the Irish in Britain, in partnership with St Mary’s University, Twickenham, London, where Professor McAleese is a Distinguished Professor in Irish Studies.

“These hundred years have seen massive changes in the relationship between Ireland and Britain and further afield,” said Mrs McAleese.

“Things that were deemed strong and invincible a century ago have disappeared into the footnotes of history.

“Things that seemed weak and set for failure have grown strong and enduring. A conflict that seemed intractable has been quelled by the politics of peace based on justice, equality, parity of esteem and a willingness to compromise.

“Ireland and Britain are today egalitarian democracies held accountable nationally and internationally by our commitment to the same human rights. We meet now on the international stage as equals and as good neighbours.

“Behind the world of politics and diplomacy are legions of men and women from Ireland who have made their lives in Britain and vice versa. The web of personal connections is richly textured and strong. It is infused with a new confidence and trust in one another.

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“I pay tribute to the men, women and young people on all sides who have worked to recalibrate the historically-skewed relationships between these islands. Today’s peace came at an awful cost in terms of lives lost, bodies and hearts permanently broken and bitter lessons learnt. Its momentum, however, is clear. It is towards a permanent, stable peace through politics and partnership.”

Conor McGinn MP, who is chairman of the Irish in Britain APPG, said it was an honour to host the former president.

“She is a seminal, inspirational figure who has been central to relations between the UK and Ireland over the last 20 years,” he said.

“The centenary of the Easter Rising is hugely important to the Irish in Britain, and as on the island of Ireland there are a range of views, experiences and thoughts about its impact and its consequences.

“The Irish in Britain played a significant role in the events of 1916, and our community now – 100 years later in 2016 – is at the forefront of driving forward a new and positive relationship between these two islands.”

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