Members of the royal family regularly undertake official visits. They are usually ho-hum events. Yet this week’s visit by Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, to the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland is anything but ordinary. His trip comes four years after Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip made a historic state visit to Ireland in May 20, to near-universal praise. It was the first visit by a monarch since Irish independence, and came 13 years after the Good Friday Agreement ended three decades of conflict. At the state dinner, she apologized for “things we wish had been done differently or not at all.” She also visited sites dear to Irish nationalists to honour those who died. She bowed over a wreath at the Garden of Remembrance. Such was the symbolism that Martin McGuinness, a former IRA commander, later said something that would have once been unthinkable: “I like her.”
Now tensions are again rising. This time the focus is her heir. This it isn’t the first time Charles has visited both sides of the border. As the official press release states: “The Prince has officially visited Ireland twice before, in May/June 1995 and February 2002. Both Their Royal Highnesses have visited Ireland privately. The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall most recently visited Northern Ireland together on official visits in April 2014 and in June 2013.”
The most emotional moments will occur on on Wednesday when they travel to County Sligo, where Charles’s great-uncle, Lord Louis Mountbatten, was killed by the IRA in 1979. Also killed was Mountbatten’s mother-in-law, his 14-year-old grandson and a local boy, Paul Maxwell. Several others were seriously injured.
Though Charles will meet with Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams, the separatist leader has been accused to increasing tensions in advance of the visit. Though Adams said the visit would be “an opportunity to promote reconciliation,” he went on to criticize the Prince: “Prince Charles is the colonel-in-chief of the Parachute Regiment—a regiment of the British army that has been responsible for the killing of many Irish citizens including in Derry, Ballymurphy, Springhill and other communities across the north.”
Compounding the issue is that Adams has previously defending killing the 79-year-old Lord Mountbatten:
The IRA gave clear reasons for the execution. I think it is unfortunate that anyone has to be killed, but the furor created by Mountbatten’s death showed up the hypocritical attitude of the media establishment. As a member of the House of Lords, Mountbatten was an emotional figure in both British and Irish politics. What the IRA did to him is what Mountbatten had been doing all his life to other people; and with his war record I don’t think he could have objected to dying in what was clearly a war situation. He knew the danger involved in coming to this country. In my opinion, the IRA achieved its objective: people started paying attention to what was happening in Ireland.
And now the threat of violence is adding to political tensions. Last week, six men were arrested for terrorist activities, reportedly aimed at the royal visitors. As Ireland’s UTV reports:
Four men were arrested in Dublin, one in his 60s and the other three in their 20s, for directing terrorism, membership of an unlawful organisation and possession of explosives. All four are being detained under Section 30 of the Offences against the State Act.
Two other men in their 20s were arrested in Leitrim under Section 30 of the Offences against the State Act, following the discovery of a pistol and bomb-making parts on the Sligo-Blacklion road, around 25 miles from Mullaghamore.
A suspect device was also recovered in Courtown, Co Wexford, as well as component parts for explosive devices at other locations. The parts will be subject to technical examination. The Army EOD team were called out.
The men are apparently dissident republicans, members of the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA, which is opposed to the peace process. The though of another IRA-related bomb plot aimed at the royal family, 36 years after the explosion that killed Mountbatten, has Irish security forces on high alert on both sides of the border.