Ambassador, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
It is a great pleasure to join you this evening to mark Queen Elizabeth II’s birthday in this the year of her Platinum Jubilee – celebrating her 70 years of service to the British people and the United Kingdom.
I am very pleased to have this opportunity to pay tribute to Her Majesty’s remarkable dedication to public service and steadfast leadership spanning an incredible seven decades.
Her unwavering commitment and support for reconciliation and mutual understanding has been an important contribution to advancing relations on these islands, and one deeply appreciated by the Irish people.
That leadership and commitment to reframing the relationship between our two countries was personified during her historic State visit to Ireland in 2011 – a cathartic moment in the relationships across these islands.
Is cuimhin liom go háirithe an chairdiúlacht agus dea-thoil - an céad míle fáilte a léirigh muintir na hÉireann le linn a cuairte.
Ó tharla gur cainteoir bródúil Gaeilge mé féin, chuaigh sé i bhfeidhm go mór orm nuair a chuir sí tús lena hóráid i gCaisleán Bhaile Átha Cliath ‘i nGaelige’.
Two memories of Her Majesty’s visit to Ireland made a lasting impression on me: the profound respect she showed for our Nation - and those who died fighting for Irish freedom - at the Garden of Remembrance here in Dublin; and the joy she exhibited while mixing with Irish people in my own rebel county, on the South Mall and in the English Market.
Followed a number of years later by the first State visit by President Higgins to the United Kingdom, these visits were a powerful expression of the long journey of reconciliation across these islands.
I know from President Higgins the warm and generous welcome the Queen personally provided in Windsor Castle, and how much that visit meant to so many Irish people in Great Britain.
After years of preparations and considerable trepidation, such moments broke down long-held preconceptions on both sides and showed us how far we had come.
Messages delivered during these historic visits confirmed to people across these islands and more globally that, after much painful and troubled history, it was possible to leave the past behind and enter into an era of mutual respect, close partnership and sincere friendship.
However, such a journey requires constant, painstaking and careful nurturing and that has, sadly, been somewhat absent in recent years.
Regrettably, relations between our two Governments are being strained by current events.
Unilateral action on the Protocol and on legacy by London is at odds with the spirit of partnership that is needed to underpin the Good Friday Agreement, and is testing and fraying the strength of that partnership between us. The British Government’s actions yesterday risk further instability in Northern Ireland and damage to key sectors of the economy.
As we know only too well, it is only by working together in a ‘spirit of partnership’ – if I may borrow from the words of Her Majesty in Dublin Castle- that we can continue to protect the hard-won peace on this island, as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement.
But let us not forget, the relationship between our two countries is ancient, deep and strong, built upon our trade and interconnected economies, our shared historical community, and our rich cultural and family ties.
Visiting London during the St. Patrick’s Day period, I experienced this at first hand.
- - the deep and diverse economic ties, with total UK-Ireland trade now worth over 90 billion euro per year.
- - the rich contribution the Irish community has made to life in the UK – in culture, in business, in sport and in frontline services
- - the joy with which London hosted the St. Patrick’s Day parade
and, of course, our own joy at a sweet victory in Twickenham
We have worked together to navigate seemingly intractable challenges before – and we can do so again.
This moment where we mark the Queen’s Jubilee provides us with an opportunity to reflect on how much has changed within and between our countries in the decades since her coronation, and to draw inspiration from her leadership in fostering and strengthening the British-Irish relationship.
For many people on this island she is their Queen. In addition to her historic State visit to Ireland in 2011, the Queen has been a frequent visitor to Northern Ireland. 25 visits in total, often accompanied by her late husband, Prince Philip.
I remain hopeful about our future; I am convinced we can overcome current difficulties and regain that true spirit of respect and partnership that Her Majesty the Queen has done so much to encourage and underpin.
I will continue to prioritise and invest in the Irish-British relationship and to believe in what we can achieve together.
Ambassador, thank you again for bringing us together on this happy occasion.
Please will you all join me in raising a glass, to the health and happiness of The Queen.
Go raibh maith agaibh.