On Friday 23 March, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry arrived in Belfast for an unannounced trip to Northern Ireland. This is why people are calling it their most politically sensitive visit to date…
Details of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s one-day trip to Belfast caught much of the world’s media by surprise today, as details were only announced just before 10.30am for security reasons.
However, while this is standard procedure for any royal visit to Northern Ireland, there is no denying that the royal visit comes at a sensitive time as talks continue between Sinn Féin (a left-wing Irish republican political party active in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland) and the DUP (the largest unionist political party in Northern Ireland) to restore the devolved government.
The devolved government collapsed in January 2017 after Martin McGuinness resigned as deputy first minister in protest against the handling of a flawed green energy scheme.
Subsequent talks have failed to restore the institution – and it has not been confirmed whether or not Markle and Harry will meet with any representatives of the main political parties.
Peace, though, is clearly at the forefront of the royal couple’s minds.
Shortly after landing in Belfast, Markle and Harry – whose wedding invitations were revealed for the first time yesterday – began their day celebrating a youth-led peace-building initiative called Amazing the Space.
They were greeted by Londonderry students Amber Hamilton, from Foyle College, and Ryan McCallion, from St Joseph’s Boys school, both 17, before meeting a number of dignitaries including Police Service of Northern Ireland Chief Constable George Hamilton.
Markle and Harry then moved on to the cross-community gathering at the Eikon Centre, which is built on the site of the old Maze prison, to watch teenagers share their hopes and dreams of a peaceful and reconciled future on the island.
The program – which was launched by Harry himself when he visited Northern Ireland for the first time last September – encourages young people to become ambassadors for peace within their communities.
According to Cooperation Ireland’s official website, last year’s Amazing the Space project saw 409 schools submit Peace Pledges articulating young people’s aspirations for a more peaceful society for themselves and their peers. These pledges were from both local and international schools around the world.
“These messages inspired the theme of this year’s Amazing the Space project, which aims to encourage young people to demonstrate how they are ‘living out’ their Peace Pledges in their local communities,” the site adds.
The couple will also visit the Titanic Experience, as well as the headquarters of Catalyst Inc, Northern Ireland’s next generation science park.
According to Sky News, Markle and Harry will later “have lunch at the Crown Liquor Saloon, Belfast’s Victorian gin palace and one of Northern Ireland’s best known pubs”.
During their meal, they will learn all about the 1820s pub’s heritage from National Trust staff and meet bar staff, local comedians and musicians, before going for a walkabout outside the Grade A Listed building.
According to The Telegraph, Harry decided to take Markle on a tour around the United Kingdom in the months leading up to their wedding, in a bid to help introduce her to new home.
Today’s trip completes the list of four nations that make up the UK: after turning out in Nottingham, England on their first joint outing in December (and following that at Brixton, London, too), Markle and Harry visited Cardiff, Wales in January and then Edinburgh, Scotland a day before Valentine’s Day in February.
The couple – who are due to tie the knot on 19 May – announced their engagement last November after 16 months of dating, the start of which saw them have a “good five, six months of privacy” according to Markle.
They made their first public appearance as a couple in September 2017 at the opening ceremony of the Invictus Games.
The Suits actor has since confirmed she will be giving up acting and focusing further on good causes, already being involved in charity work, saying: “I don’t see it as giving anything up, I just see it as a change. It’s a new chapter.”
And Harry, during the couple’s first televised interview, revealed that this decision was not one which was taken lightly. Indeed, he said that he had been forced to have “some pretty frank conversations” with Markle about how her life may change when she entered the royal family.
He added: “But I know that at the end of the day she chooses me, and I choose her, and therefore whatever we have to tackle together or individually we’ll always be us together as a team, so I think she’s capable…
“She’s capable of anything.”