Prince Charles has saluted the ”unparalleled bonds” between Britain and Ireland at a time of strained Anglo-Irish relations caused by Brexit.
The Prince of Wales was attending a special St Patrick’s Day dinner at the Irish embassy in London where British and Irish politicians mingled amid continuing uncertainty and recriminations over the Irish border issue in the Brexit withdrawal agreement.
He told guests, which included members of the cabinet, that he wanted to visit each of the 32 counties in the island of Ireland before he would “drop dead”.
“Above all we are friends, we are partners and we are the closest of near neighbours, bound together by everything that we have in common – and by just how far we have come together, “ he told the 80 guests.
“This is precisely why it has been so important to my wife and myself that we too should visit Ireland so often over these past few years – to experience, and celebrate, as best we can, the unparalleled bonds between our two countries, and to highlight just what a fundamental difference they make to us all.
With just 22 days to go before the UK potentially crashes out of the EU, putting further strains on the economic and political relations between Ireland and the UK, the Irish embassy event was designed to demonstrate the resilience of relations between two countries with close historic and sometimes troubled bonds.
Among the guests invited were the deputy prime minister of Ireland, Simon Coveney, the head of the Democratic Unionist Party in the House of Commons Nigel Dodds, cabinet office minister David Lidington and other senior Westminster figures including the speaker of the house John Bercow.
Prince Charles, who visited Cork and Kerry with the Duchess of Cornwall last year, has been a frequent visitor to Ireland in the last 20 years despite the tragic deaths of the prince’s great-uncle, Lord Louis Mountbatten, and three others who were killed in an IRA bombing in 1979.
“I must say I’m slightly amazed to find that we’ve managed to visit 15 counties already. I am quite determined before I drop dead and finally lose my marbles that I should get around to the remaining 17” he said in reference to the 26 counties in the Republic of Ireland and the six counties in Northern Ireland.
Sources have said he was determined to continue his visits to help mitigate the strains to the Anglo-Irish relations caused by Brexit.
“[As] our relationship evolves over the coming months and years, I have both the faith and the hope that the essential friendship between the people of Ireland and the people of the United Kingdom will not only endure but will renew itself for generations to come,” he said.
Speaking at the dinner, Simon Coveney, Ireland’s deputy prime minister said the many visits by Charles and Camilla in recent years had “created opportunities to strengthen” the friendship between communities on the two islands, “north and south, east and west”.
Charles was speaking amid a growing crisis over the UK’s departure from the EU with no sign of any deal on the Irish border to satisfy eurosceptics in the Tory Party or the DUP.
Downing Street said has insisted the meaningful vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal will go ahead as promised on Tuesday, despite negotiations in Brussels stumbling.
Prince Charles first visited the Republic of Ireland in 1995.
His visit was hailed as a success, and seen as a step on the way towards the eventual visit by the Queen in 2011.