Next time, the Queen should cross the Foyle

I’m not, you understand, any kind of mad royalist or unionist but isn’t here something slightly woebegone about the Queen’s programme in Northern Ireland? The down- the- bulletin coverage it has received is not only a sign of the times but shows the lack of something to grab attention. Last year’s visit, the first Royal Maundy service outside England at Armagh was symbolically adequate and interesting. Limiting this year’s to the level of the modest but no doubt very worthy visit to Lisneal College carefully just outside the Londonderry county borough boundary was over-cautiously calibrated. Obviously the NIO still keeps the Derry side off limits ; this should change. President McAleese rightly visits all parts of NI – she was very well received in the Protestant Fountain even though she hails from Belfast.
The breakthrough visit proclaiming inclusivity would comprise a civic reception in the Guildhall recalling links between Derry and Iona where several of her Scottish ancestors are buried, a pause and a bow at the Bloody Sunday memorial, ecumenical prayers in St Columbs’ Cathedral, opening of the new heritage centre at Ebrington Barracks, admitting rawness over the army connection but celebrating the naval tradition that was so popular in the Bogside a couple of generations ago when the barracks was HMS Sea Eagle. Fair play to Mark Durkan who has always handled these events impeccably. The SDLP mayor Gerard Diver is also admirably, even courageously cross community. Sinn Fein would do better to withhold critical comment. Parity of esteem can’t be a one-way street. The twinning of the two Heads of State at the Hillsborough reception is a welcome recognition of the warmest part of the northern Protestant all-Ireland dimension and easily avoids a suggestion of joint sovereignty. The symbolism is highly appropriate. Next time, let’s go one bolder and allow the Queen to recognise a great Catholic hurt. And can the Dublin visit be long delayed? The Queen is getting on, you know.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London