Royal visit to North 'sign of changed times'

The public nature of Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh’s latest visit to the North reflects changing times in the region, Stormont’s First Minister has said.

Ahead of the couple’s planned arrival in Belfast this evening, Peter Robinson expressed hope that the open nature of their schedule would allow lots of people the opportunity to greet them.

While past visits have seen the Queen’s itinerary closely guarded due to security fears, this week’s engagements in the region have been publicised in advance.

“It is a sign of changed times that the logistics of this visit could be announced before Her Majesty The Queen’s arrival,” said Mr Robinson, who described the visit as a “great honour” for Northern Ireland.

“There was a time when a Royal visit could not be reported in advance due to security concerns.

“I trust that lots of people will have the opportunity to greet Her Majesty The Queen over the next few days and express their gratitude for the wonderful leadership she has shown throughout her reign.”

The Democratic Unionist leader and Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness will be at Hillsborough Castle this evening for a private audience with the Queen. Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers will also be in attendance.

The encounter will be the third time the Queen and Mr McGuinness have met.

Tomorrow, Mr McGuinness will accompany the Royal couple on a tour of the old Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast – a facility the politician was detained in himself during the Troubles.

Once a prison synonymous with the dark years of the conflict, its transformation into a popular visitor attraction is symbolic of the North’s journey away from conflict.

Other engagements include a visit to the set of hit US fantasy drama Game Of Thrones in east Belfast.

The Queen and Duke will tour the Painthall studios in the city’s regenerated docklands where much of the popular HBO series is filmed.

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