Queen's Ireland visit 'extraordinary'
Dublin - President Mary McAleese on Monday described the state visit of Britain's Queen Elizabeth to Ireland due to begin Tuesday as an "extraordinary moment" in Irish history.
Queen Elizabeth is the first British monarch to visit Ireland since George V visited in 1911, 11 years before the establishment of an independent Irish state.
This is "absolutely the right moment to welcome the head of state of our nearest neighbour onto Irish soil", McAleese said in an interview with national broadcaster RTE.
The Queen is visiting from Tuesday to Friday at the invitation of the president, who has worked hard to forge links between the Catholic and Protestant communities in Northern Ireland.
"I think it is an extraordinary moment in Irish history, a phenomenal sign and signal of the success of the peace process and absolutely the right moment for us to welcome onto Irish soil, Her Majesty, the Queen, the Head of State of our immediate next door neighbours," the president said.
After Ireland gained its independence from Britain in 1922, the six largely Protestant counties of Northern Ireland remained British.
The Good Friday Agreement, which paved the way for power-sharing in Northern Ireland, was signed in 1998 after almost 30 years of violence between Catholics who wanted a united Ireland and Protestants who sought to maintain the link with Britain.
The agreement marked the end of most of the worst of the violence, although a small number of breakaway nationalists known as "dissidents" continue to advocate the use of force in pursuit of a united Ireland.
A massive security operation has been launched by Irish police ahead of the Queen's visit with the greatest threat seen as coming from dissident group the Real Irish Republican Army, a designated terrorist organisation in Britain and also banned in Ireland.
Police fear that the Real IRA, who murdered a Catholic policeman in Northern Ireland last month, will attempt to launch an attack during the visit.
"The Queen of England is wanted for war crimes in Ireland and is not wanted on Irish soil," the political wing of the group said at a rally in Derry on Easter Monday.
Veteran IRA activist, Marian Price, who was the main speaker at the rally, was arrested by police in Northern Ireland at the weekend and charged with "encouraging support for a proscribed organisation".
Price was convicted of an IRA bomb attack in London in 1973.
During the rally a masked paramilitary said dissident republicans planned to murder more police officers.
Irish police, or gardai, have stepped up surveillance on key figures in dissident movements ahead of the visit.
Some suspects are now being stopped up to 10 times a day by gardai using special anti-terrorist legislation, Irish media reported on Monday.
Spectators are to be banned from streets around many of the destinations the British monarch is visiting and the Queen is not expected to go on any walkabouts.
The majority of Irish people welcome the Queen's visit as a sign of the normalisation of the relationship with Britain.
Influential commentator and assistant editor of the Irish Times daily newspaper Fintan O'Toole said on Monday that what was significant about the visit was that it was "what normally took place between neighbouring countries".
"There are a lot of people for whom it's no big deal. It's putting a seal on the peace process. It's copper-fastening the idea that the relationship between Ireland and Britain has already changed," he said.