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Jeffrey Donaldson tribute to Queen Elizabeth II: 'On an island riven by division, she was a bridge builder'

Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle (PA Images/Alamy)

3 min read

On Thursday 8 September I was due to meet our new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in Belfast. As I journeyed to the meeting it became clear that Her Majesty the Queen’s health had taken a downward turn at Balmoral.

In advance of the meeting, I spoke to waiting reporters outside Belfast City Hall. The cameras drew crowds, as people with worry and concern written on their faces looked to their phones and journalists for news on Her late Majesty’s health.  

Whilst our meeting with Chris Heaton-Harris proceeded, the most serious discussions focused on our late head of state. 

Her late Majesty the Queen has been a steadfast and unshakeable head of state for the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth.  Her gracious approach has been a constant example throughout our lives.

We are duty bound to keep building on the foundation which Queen Elizabeth II laid with her own hands

In Counties Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry and Tyrone, people have gathered in their churches, town centres and village halls to pay tribute to a great monarch. 

In 1952 during her first Christmas broadcast Queen Elizabeth asked the nation to pray “that God may give me wisdom and strength to carry out the solemn promises I shall be making, and that I may faithfully serve Him and you, all the days of my life.” 

Her Christian faith was clear from day one. Like King Solomon, her prayer was for wisdom. This week we mourn Her late Majesty’s death, but we do so with tremendous honour for one who served God and her people faithfully.

In recent days the true impact of Her Majesty’s example in Northern Ireland, when she reached out the hand of friendship to help with the reconciliation process, has become clear. We are duty bound to keep building on the foundation which Queen Elizabeth II laid with her own hands. 

I am honoured to represent the constituency of Lagan Valley and the village of Royal Hillsborough where the Queen frequently visited her official residence. 

Those visits invoke precious memories for the residents.  Many of whom hold tightly to their chance encounters with their VIP neighbour. Her Majesty’s death will be felt acutely in that village as people gather to pay tribute to someone they regarded as not just their sovereign, but their friend. 

During our troubled past, Her late Majesty visited and stood in solidarity with her people in their darkest of hours.  Her presence offered hope. In her Christmas address in 1976 Her Majesty spoke of the need for an end to the conflict.  She reminded us that the following year was her silver jubilee and expressed a hope that: “The gift I would most value next year is that reconciliation should be found wherever it is needed, a reconciliation which would bring peace and security to families and neighbours at present suffering and torn apart.”

Yet, just a few short years later, Her Majesty too was touched by the violence of the Troubles. The IRA assassination of the Earl Mountbatten at Mullaghmore, County Sligo, in August 1979 enabled Her Majesty to share the sense of loss felt by countless victims. She rose above that sense of loss to reach out across divided communities and to offer hope.  This was leadership and service. 

On an island riven by division, Queen Elizabeth II was a bridge builder. Her visit to the Republic of Ireland in 2011 was a cathartic moment in British-Irish relations.  

But above all the plaudits of world leaders, Queen Elizabeth II looked to hills from whence came her strength. Today she has heard that “well done” from the King of kings whom she served. 

The visits by His Majesty the King to Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in recent years show that the Royal Family’s commitment to reconciliation will live on. 

God Save the King.

Jeffrey Donaldson is leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

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