Bruce Arnold

Critic of Public Affairs, writing about art, theatre, music and politics

This visit has brought our two countries even closer

The queen's silent bow in reverence for those who fought against Britain for Irish freedom was the most moving gesture of her first day on Irish soil -- finer and far better than words could ever have been.

It set a tone higher than anyone here or in Britain could have imagined or forecast. And the richness of what we have witnessed has forged powerful and unbreakable bonds of friendship, truly endorsing a relationship unmatched elsewhere among the 27 EU members.

Queen Elizabeth has seen and known all sides of victory and defeat, not just in her own time, when war destroyed civilisation for a period, but historically in the gestures she has already made to Irish people who served and died in defence of Britain during the Second World War and to those many Irishmen who also died in the First World War.

They are in her heart as a monarch, as well as a person. And one of her great achievements has been to make human the act and duty of monarchy which so many monarchs in history have failed in doing.

It is this that catches at one's heart in surveying her public expression of this collective grief. She also recognised during her visit that assuaging that grief and turning it in on itself -- amid the possibility of residual pain and blame -- was part of the task she had in hand.

Much more has happened, however. Her own presence here in Ireland has been hugely reinforced by the attendance of her prime minister David Cameron and her foreign secretary William Hague. They came with firm messages, as she did, and they delivered them in simple, clear and unmistakably friendly terms.

Both Britain and Ireland are unique in the collective European partnership, Britain, for the strongly independent line it has taken in terms of currency, trade, Anglo-American relations and scepticism about the euro, and Ireland for an independence of thought and action over culture, belief and sovereignty.

This independence has suffered cruel blows in the recent past, damaging our self-confidence and economic viability. We have suffered and we will suffer, but we will also prevail.

There is a natural determination and vitality in the still-youthful spirit of the country and on it the electorate has already declared its purpose.

WE are still fumbling our way towards the true expression of that and it will come. Our faith in it must confirm this.

But we need help, support and understanding. The self-interest and dishonesty of how the EU has interpreted our fiscal dilemma, the too-painful remedies forced upon us and the chains in which we have been shackled by the ECB and the IMF are too much for the country to bear.

Britain has not declared itself on this. It has simply made the best gesture of all, a bilateral loan that was pragmatic and effective. It was not for friendship or good neighbourly relations, as David Cameron has pointed out -- it was because of the binding and complex relationship of our economies.

We are uniquely tied together by trade. The survival and continued growth of this is of huge mutual interest. We need each other, but we need also that both economies be sound, prosperous and growing.

This belief in Britain, about that country's trade with Ireland, is clear enough. The statement of it, powerfully delivered by the two senior British politicians and confirmed in her speech last night by Queen Elizabeth, is a vital endorsement of what is undoubtedly the most significant international relationship we as a country have.

We may rest assured that the second most significant relationship will also be endorsed and strengthened later this month, with President Obama's official visit.

We, the British and Irish people, lived through terrorism together and put that behind us. The residual tremors during the visit were a sign of the seriousness of it all and of it now being of fringe importance, ultimately to be completely purged.

We can focus on fiscal progress, improved trade links, closer European co-operation and a joint expectation that Europe's obsession with regulation and control has to be moderated in favour of better market opportunities and a return to the emphasis on this, which was the emphasis that mattered to us when we joined Europe all those years ago.

With Britain, we can do better than on our own. This has always been at the heart of the largely hidden bonding between two countries that have depended on too much history to look back on and savour, too little on imaginative exploration of the huge opportunities we share.

In her speech, Queen Elizabeth referred to a golden thread through all our successes. Her emphasis, as well as that of President McAleese, was firmly upon placing ourselves and our aspiration in the future.

This meant not lingering in the chambers of history, however impossible it was to ignore history's weight upon us.