Mr Speaker’s introduction to Michael D. Higgins, President of Ireland

On Tuesday 8 April 2014, the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow MP, welcomed the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, on the occasion of his address to Parliament.

"Ladies and gentlemen, it is my privilege and my pleasure to introduce Michael D. Higgins, President of Ireland, to this audience. The word “historic” is now perhaps an overused one but it is a clearly appropriate term on this occasion. For what we will witness today is at the very heart of the first State Visit of an Irish President to the country, an event that would have been very difficult to imagine a few decades ago. It is a telling testament to the extraordinary transformation of the relationship between and within these islands in our lifetimes that our children, both in the United Kingdom and in Ireland, would be so surprised about the enormity of this moment.

The truth is that the past eight centuries or so, never mind the past one hundred years, have often been fraught with trouble for this shared corner of north-western Europe, surrounded by water. Division has often been the order of the hour. Mutual suspicion the currency of our dealings. We have in one sense shared so much history but in another been so separated by it. The past is a powerful force but we should not allow ourselves to become the prisoners of it. The progress made in Northern Ireland over the past 20 years, for all its imperfections, some of which still continue, should serve as an eternal reminder that with sufficient determination on all sides, progress can be both achieved and entrenched. In the end it should be not our history but our humanity which determines our future.

This State Visit, like that of Her Majesty the Queen to the Republic of Ireland in 2011, is further evidence of the reconciliation that has been and must continue to be the hallmark of our era. It may be described as “symbolic” but in this case there is real substance wrapped inside the symbolism. We are now natural political, economic and social partners and all three themes will doubtless be highlighted during your presence with your wife Sabina in this country. Mr President, you and she could not be more welcome.

It will also be an opportunity for you to demonstrate the many virtues which explain why you were elected President with the largest number of votes for an individual ever recorded in Ireland. You are described as a politician and a poet, an academic and a commentator, an author and a broadcaster. You have been a Mayor and a Minister and served in both the Dail and the Senate. You have taken an intense interest in matters as diverse as the local football team and human rights internationally. You are clearly a President in the spirit of Yeats as befits your nation. Yet in our time, in apposition to some of his most famous words, the centre has held and so has made possible the new relationship between our two countries and hence your presence here in our Parliament. President Higgins, we would be honoured if you would now address us."