President Michael D Higgins has indicated that he will be the first ever Irish President to make a state visit to Britain - as early as next year.
The President made the remark as he praised the contribution the Irish have made in Britain.
Speaking from the London Irish Centre in Camden on the opening day of his first official visit abroad since being inaugurated, the President said: “I think the one thing that is certain is that there will be a return (state) visit. I expect than an invitation will be issued and when it is issued I expect it will be very warmly received. I would hope myself that it would be very early next year.”
President Higgins said the state visit of Queen Elizabeth to Ireland last year was helped enormously by the historic contribution Irish people have made to British life.
“I think it is very important to realise that the Queen’s visit to Ireland was an achievement of the Irish in Britain who had in fact worked very hard,” he said.
“You know the Irish have made a very strong contribution to Britain. I think that Ireland is the third rank in relation to investing in Britain after France and Germany.
"There are 40,000 people on the boards of British companies, so the Irish in Britain have, in fact, created an atmosphere in which a visit can be proposed and delivered.”
Reflecting on Queen Elizabeth's speech in Dublin in the context of his own expected return state visit, the President said: “There was a very significant gesture from the Queen’s side, not just speaking in Irish, but recognising the fact that people fought for independence and should be honoured equally. It was also time to realise that many Irish people had died wearing British uniforms in the defence of great principles of democracy that they saw, so all of this is very, very strong.
He added: “When the state visit takes place it will take all these relations onto another plain and my dearest wish, and it will happen, is that everything will be deepened, strengthened and enhanced.
"Of course the Irish in Britain will be able to celebrate further and most people will welcome that too. We have so much to do together, things we can share, things we can do.”
The President continues his three-day visit to Britain tomorrow, Wednesday 22, with a trip to the Olympic Park, which includes time at the Aquatics Centre and the Stadium.
There he will meet Lord Coe, President of the London Olympic Games Organising Committee.
In the afternoon he will also have an opportunity to meet members of the Irish business, cultural and wider community at a reception at the Irish Embassy.
Later in the evening he will attend a joint production performance of Juno and Paycock involving the Abbey Theatre and the National Theatre at the Lyttelton Theatre.
The President departs for Dublin on Thursday.