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King Charles III to visit Northern Ireland for first time as King

As part of a tour of the United Kingdom, King Charles III will make his first visit to Northern Ireland as monarch today.

Charles will meet leaders of the Stormont parties, receive condolences from the speaker of the assembly, before he and Camilla, the Queen Consort attend a church service in Belfast, where they will be joined by the new Prime Minister Liz Truss.

At Hillsborough Castle, the King and Queen Consort will meet members of the public and view tributes left to the late Queen. Following this, the King will host an audience with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Chris Heaton-Harris, before meeting local party leaders and receiving a message of condolence from Alex Maskery, the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Following the church service at St Anne’s Cathedral, which will include prayer and reflection on the life of Queen Elizabeth II, the King and Queen Consort are expected to return to London on Tuesday evening.

Northern Ireland and The State of the Nation

Some very notable attendees of the church service at St Anne’s will be the Sinn Fein delegation. Sinn Fein representatives are also expected at the Queen’s funeral next week in London, reflecting just how much the party’s relationship with the Royals has evolved.

Party President Mary Lou McDonald has indicated that the party continues to communicate with the royal family, having written to the late Queen and the then Prince Charles to express condolences at the passing of Prince Phillip. Likewise, King Charles wrote a letter to Ms McDonald when she was recovering from Covid.

The relationship between the royals and republicans has changed greatly in the last decade or so.The Queen’s visit to the Republic in 2011, while boycotted by Sinn Fein, brought in it’s wake, many meetings and an infamous handshake between the Queen and Martin McGuiness, the former leader of the Irish Republican Army.

Northern Ireland King Charles Queen Consort
The King and Queen greeted the crowds outside Hillsborough Castle today on a walkabout in Northern Ireland (Image BBC)

However, Sinn Fein continues to draw a line. While the party will take part in remembrance or funeral services associated with the Queen, it will not take part in any events marking King Charles’ accession to the throne. The party considers such events to be exclusively for those who have allegiance to the crown.

What this new found respect for the royal family means for the Stormont stalemate is yet to be seen, but it does certainly reflect a maturing relationship between Sinn Fein and the monarchy, which certainly shouldn’t hurt things.

Final Thought

Devolution in Northern Ireland currently rests on power sharing between unionists and nationalists, with unionism retaining a lead over nationalism electorally. However, this advantage has narrowed greatly in recent years, largely due to the growth of parties that remain neutral on the constitutional status of Northern Ireland.

Sinn Fein now sits as the largest individual party in the Assembly, with he stated aim of taking Northern Ireland out of King Charles III’s kingdom.

As such, his visit is a timely demonstration of King Charles III’s commitment to the union. With rising movements for independence across the union, expect many more visits and meetings in this vein in the coming years of Charles’ reign.

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