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Last week Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh made a state visit to Ireland. The visit was a historic event in relations between Ireland and the United Kingdom—the first such visit since Irish Independence in 1921 changed political relations on these islands.

It is fitting that it took place before the end of the term in office of the president of Ireland, Mary McAleese. The president, the first to have been born in Northern Ireland, has made “building bridges” the theme of her presidency. While the two heads of state had met each other on several prior occasions, this visit was special—a reflection of the transformed relationship.

It celebrated the depth and warmth of our relations. Over 6 million people in the United Kingdom are Irish or have an Irish parent or grandparent while around 3 million visitors from Britain come to Ireland every year.

British and Irish history is inescapably entwined. For too long, however, relations between our nations were marked by conflict and division, by mistrust and suspicion. But today we are proud to be friends and neighbors, partners and equals.

The Northern Ireland Peace Process, founded on the principle of mutual respect, which culminated in The Belfast Agreement reached on Good Friday 1998, has been critical to the partnership we enjoy today.

During the visit, the Queen paid tribute to the foundation of the Irish State at the Garden of Remembrance and attended a ceremony to commemorate the Irish who died in the First World War. These elements speak to our shared history.

Trade and tourism between our two countries is an important contributor to both our economies. Every week around £1 billion in trade takes place between our two countries, while approximately 3 million visitors travel each year from the U.K. to Ireland and a similar number of Irish visited the U.K.

The Queen herself enjoyed some of Ireland’s attractions with visits to the famous Book of Kells at Trinity College and the Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary.

Economic, political and cultural ties already connect us more closely than at any time in our recent history. This visit was a steppingstone to an even closer future relationship of cooperation, trust and friendship between the peoples of our islands.

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

eamon gilmore and william hague

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