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April 9, 2014

Queen hosts Irish president on 1st UK state visit

LONDON — Amid regal pomp at Queen Elizabeth II’s Windsor Castle home and thunderous applause from British lawmakers, Ireland’s president began a state visit to Britain laden with symbolism for two nations that share a troubled history.

President Michael D. Higgins is making his country’s first state visit to Britain since Ireland’s hard-fought independence nearly a century ago. His trip underscores how much Northern Ireland’s peace process has transformed relations between the two longtime adversaries since the 1990s, when IRA car bombs were still detonating in London.

Higgins, delivering the first speech by an Irish president to the joint Houses of Parliament, said Tuesday that both nations had attained “a closeness and warmth that once seemed unachievable.”

Previous Irish presidents had toured England and met the queen in several official trips since 1993 as part of early peacemaking efforts. But a formal state visit with full honors had been repeatedly postponed because of security and diplomatic sensitivities.

Higgins, a left-wing politician, poet and human rights activist who was elected to the ceremonial post in 2011, said the two nations’ relationship had gone “from the doubting eyes of estrangement to the trusting eyes of partnership and, in recent years, to the welcoming eyes of friendship.”

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