Mayor of Cashel Cllr Michael Browne’ defied ill health and the opposition of his political party, Sinn Fein, to welcome Queen Elizabeth 11 to the Rock of Cashel on behalf of the people of his home town.
The councillor, who is seriously ill with cancer, has received widespread praise and respect for his decision and it’s believed he is the first Sinn Fein politican to meet the British monarch.
It emerged this week that Sinn Fein Vice-President Mary-Lou McDonald requested the ailing Cashel Town Council member not to meet the Queen but he believed that as the elected Mayor of Cashel he had a duty to welcome her and the Duke of Edinburgh regardless of his politics.
Cllr Browne was seated in a wheelchair as he was introduced to the Queen and Prince Philip by Minister of State Alan Kelly in a hall at the Rock where local civic and religious dignitaries, tourism and OPW representatives gathered to greet the monarch at the end of her tour of the heritage site.
“I just said I welcome you to Cashel your majesty and I hope you enjoy your stay in Cashel. She just said thanks very much. I am glad I met her. I can only see that her visit can do good. You could be protesting all your life...” said the 63 year-old, from Oliver Plunkett Park, Cashel.
“I mean why would you be against an 85 year old woman. What harm is she doing. Whether you like it or not, we haven’t had a British monarch in Ireland in 100 years.”
Cllr Browne, who was Sinn Fein’s South Tipperary candidate in the general election in February, said the Queen’s visit was a very big occasion for Cashel, Co. Tipperary and Ireland and he hoped it would generate a lot of goodwill between the Irish and English people as well as boost tourism and the economy.
“Look we are in fierce hard economic times and the fact she has come here might encourage more tourists to visit. If the economy is to take off again that is the sort of money we have to get into the country,” he said matter of factly.
Cllr Browne’s decision to welcome the Queen to his hometown has been criticised by the local Sinn Fein organisation, which issued a statement expressing surprise at his action.
“Party members in Tipperary were surprised by Michael Browne’s action, especially as he recently signed a statement against the English queen’s visit to the Rock of Cashel,” said South Tipperary Sinn Féin spokesperson Muiris Ó Suilleabháin.
“Sinn Féin’s position on the visit of the English queen to Ireland is that it is premature and we are opposed to it and that its elected members should not attend any of the events related to it,” he added.
During the royal visit to the Rock, a small group of local Sinn Fein members, including Cllr Browne’s brother Martin, staged a protest at the junction of Canopy Street and Ladyswell holding placards bearing the slogan “Not in our name” and a banner declaring “You’re not welcome until Ireland is free”.
But Cllr Michael Browne said he had made his position clear on the Queen’s visit weeks beforehand.
“There are certain people in my own party who feel I have betrayed them. As far as I am concerned, I have betrayed no one and acted in the best interests of the people of Cashel, which I was elected to do,” said Cllr Browne defiantly.
“Let posterity judge whether it was right of wrong. The fact is that someone down the line will be the first to shake her hands. As the old saying goes, ‘Where Tipperary leads, Ireland follows’.”