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How will Ireland greet Queen Elizabeth's historic visit?

On Tuesday, Queen Elizabeth II will become the first British monarch to visit the Republic of Ireland. Ireland's prime minister characterized the trip as evidence of a 'growing up' of two peoples.

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Catherine O’Regan, a translator from Dublin, says she was nonplussed by the question.

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“I don't think I have an opinion on the Queen's visit,” she says. “I think that the main reason behind that is that she is not really relevant to me. “I find it funny that the gardaí [police] have spent the last two weeks checking every sewerage hole in the city and marking them with yellow paint, yet no visible effort has been made to clean the dirt and grime off Dublin streets and pavements.”

Not all state visits are equal: “Now, Obama I'm excited about. Pity we, the public, probably wont get a chance to see him,” says Ms. O’Regan.

Hopes of normalization of attitudes between the countries ignore the fact that the two states already co-operate and citizens have, politics aside, always moved between Britain and Ireland.

Gerard Casey, professor of philosophy at University College Dublin, says ambivalence is a reflection of Britain's relative significance in the world rather than a deep commitment to republican principles.

“The King of Denmark could arrive and no one would care – it’s the same thing,” he says.

According to Professor Casey, the absence of interest stands in sharp contrast to euphoria over the forthcoming appearance of Mr. Obama later in May – despite his own lack of interest in the US president.

“The Irish people recognize who wields actual power in the world, the president of the United States, so we’re all weak-kneed at the prospect of him visiting for a day.”

There are indications that public opinion is complex, and the highly symbolic visit is not without critics. Six people asked by this reporter, two experts and four people on the street, declined to offer any comment on the visit and several more did not respond to enquiries, implying reticence to go on the public record on the matter.

Realpolitik governs Sinn Féin response

Sinn Féin, the traditional voice of Irish republicanism, has been relatively quiet. While not happy with the British monarch being afforded a state visit, it is now deeply embedded in the powersharing government in Northern Ireland, so realpolitik has dampened the party’s objections.

Instead of protesting, Sinn Féin is organizing “alternative events” and urged anyone who does protest to do so peacefully, hoping to avoid rioting as was seen during a 2005 march by pro-British loyalist groups in Dublin.

One group will be out in force to voice discontent at the royal presence on the streets of the republic. Éirígí (the Irish word for “Arise”), a small socialist splinter from Sinn Féin, is planning a series of protests.

Chairman Brian Leeson says the party will organize two main events including a protest near Dublin’s Garden of Remembrance.
Leeson says objection to the visit is a matter of principle: “She is the commander in chief of the British armed forces and Britain’s head of state,” he says. “5,000 British troops are still based in this country and the British state claims jurisdiction over a part of Ireland.”

“There is a reason why there hasn’t been a British monarch in this city for 100 years – they’ve not been welcome. There’s no way [the majority of] the public would have worn it,” he says.

Visit starts on a tragic anniversary

Perhaps the single most contentious issue is timing: the visit coincides with the anniversary of the bombings of Dublin and Monaghan. The single largest death toll of the Irish conflict, the twin bombs on May 17, 1974, killed 33 and injured approximately 300. Pro-British loyalist militant group the Ulster Volunteer Force claimed responsibility for the attacks, but many in Ireland have long suspected British security forces colluded in the bombings.

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