The Queen's tea for two at Buckingham Palace tomorrow with Irish

President Mary Robinson, is a landmark in British-Irish relations, John

Cooney reports from Dublin.

PRESIDENT Mary Robinson's courtesy call on the Queen tomorrow, the

first by an Irish head of state since the country won its independence

from Britain 72 years ago, has been widely welcomed in the republic,

much to the surprise of the political establishments in Dublin and


This positive response reflects the dramatic decline in the

anti-British monarchy sentiment which prevailed in the early decades of

the independent Irish state.

So favourable has the reaction been to the news of the visit that over

the weekend Prime Minister Albert Reynolds boasted of how he met the

Queen at dinner on board the royal yacht Britannia which was berthed at

Leith during December's EC summit in Edinburgh.

This neighbourly mood is in sharp contrast with even the early 1960s

when a visit by Princess Margaret to Ireland was accompanied by riots

and was followed by a gun attack against a British torpedo ship off the

Waterford coast.

In recent years Irish public opinion has become accustomed to a flurry

of private visits by the royals. Some have been low profile, but others,

like the luncheon engagement of the Princess Royal, Princess Anne, with

former Irish Prime Minister Charles Haughey at Punchestown races in

1991, and Prince Edward attending a rugby match at Lansdowne Road that

same year, have been given celebrity treatment by the media.

Since Ireland joined the European Community in 1973, British Prime

Ministers and Government Ministers have become regular visitors to

Ireland for discussions on a wide range of economic issues.

But it was not until Mrs Robinson was elected President in November

1990 that speculation has grown of an Irish head of state developing

close personal links with the British monarch.

As journalist Michael O'Sullivan, who is writing a biography of Mrs

Robinson, points out, her own family, the Bourkes of Ballina, Co. Mayo,

have had close links with the royal household. For example, her uncle,

Sir Paget Bourke, was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1957.

A year ago Mrs Robinson signalled her public support for a visit to

Ireland by Princess Anne. Asked on Irish radio for her reaction to the

declared wish of the Princess to make an official visit to the republic,

Mrs Robinson said she knew there were many people in the republic who

would welcome that kind of contact.

In an interview only a few weeks ago with Alan Fisher on the GMTV

breakfast show, Mrs Robinson spoke of her ambition to consolidate

Ireland's relationships with other EC countries including Britain.

Last July Mrs Robinson became the first Irish head of state to visit

Scotland and only a few weeks ago she met Prince Philip when she

attended a memorial service for the victims of the IRA bombing in


None of her predecessors has enjoyed such high esteem in the Queen's

eyes, and Mrs Robinson is also popular with Ulster Unionists, who recall

her opposition in 1985 to the UK-Irish Agreement.

According to government sources in Dublin, Mrs Robinson who today will

receive an honorary degree from Oxford University, is pursuing her own

agenda. Apparently she had let it be known in British diplomatic circles

that she would like to have the opportunity to meet the Queen. She was

pushing an open door at the palace.

THE good rapport between Prime Minister John Major and his Irish

counterpart Albert Reynolds has ensured the first courtesy call to

Buckingham Palace by an Irish head of state has received no objections

from Downing Street or Merrion Street.

This more relaxed and tolerant attitude towards British royalty is in

marked contrast to earlier decades when virulent anti-monarchism was a

badge of Irish republicanism.

High-profile royal visits to Ireland took place in the pre-partition

days of 1903 and 1911, the first by King Edward VII and the second by

King George V and Queen Mary. On both occasions the royals visited the

capital of Irish catholicism, St Patrick's College, Maynooth, in Co.

Kildare. On the second occasion their host was the president of

Maynooth, Monsignor Daniel Mannix, later to become a rabid champion of

Irish republicanism as Archbishop of Melbourne.

The place of the British monarch was at the centre of the Irish

national question. According to historian David Harkness, a speech by

King George V at the official opening of the first parliament for

Northern Ireland in Belfast City Hall on June 22, 1921, proved to be a

turning point in bringing about negotiations between the Government of

Lloyd George and ''the illegal Dail ministry'' headed by Eamon De


The subsequent treaty gave the 26-county Irish State the same status

as the then British dominion of Canada. De Valera's opposition to this

treaty led to his break with Michael Collins. Civil war followed soon


In 1927 De Valera brought his followers into parliamentary politics

when they signed their names in the Dail book while publicly claiming

that they had made mental reservations about signing the oath of loyalty

to the crown.

But De Valera, the politician who removed the British monarch from a

role in Irish domestic affairs in the 1937 constitution, carefully

avoided cutting the last link with Britain through Ireland's membership

of the Commonwealth.

It was during a visit to Canada in 1948 that the then Prime Minister,

John A. Costello, announced that Ireland was leaving the Commonwealth

and formally declaring itself a republic. Such events are literally

history for many of Ireland's population now under 40.

The visit of Mrs Robinson to Buckingham Palace will earn her a place

in the history of British-Irish diplomatic relations. But a government

spokesman in Dublin was at pains to emphasise that the visit does not

signal reciprocal state visits by the Queen to Ireland and Mrs Robinson

to Britain.

Given the continuing IRA campaign, security reasons will ensure that

such disclaimers from official sources will continue until any state

visit has begun.

While such a state visit may be some time away, this latest

development will provoke debate among those who would claim that the

republic should rejoin the Commonwealth in an effort to facilitate a

solution to the Northern Ireland problem.

But the Commonwealth argument may be somewhat redundant as Britain and

Ireland prepare to ratify the Maastricht Treaty which brings both

islands a step closer in a European union.

Even if the Queen and President Robinson do no more than engage in

small talk over tea, they will have transcended a 72-year-old barrier

which will make the IRA appear caught up in an uncomfortable time warp.