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Britain's William and Kate to visit Ireland in March

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London (AFP)

Britain's Prince William and his wife Kate are to visit the Republic of Ireland next month, Kensington Palace announced Tuesday, in the wake of Brexit and Sinn Fein topping the polls.

Their first trip to Ireland, at the request of Britain's Foreign Office, will take place between March 3 and 5.

Once out of the question, royal trips to Ireland have become more frequent since Queen Elizabeth II's groundbreaking state visit in 2011.

The latest visit comes at a key time in British-Irish relations.

Britain left the EU on January 31, a power-sharing government has been restored in Northern Ireland after three years of wrangling, and nationalists Sinn Fein are eyeing power south of the border.

Sinn Fein's key policy is a united Ireland.

The Irish Republic, an EU member, is the United Kingdom's only land neighbour. Finding a way to keep the border with Northern Ireland free-flowing proved the trickiest part of Brexit talks.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar called an early general election for last Saturday on the back of his Brexit negotiating, having successfully avoided the threat of a hard border.

But leftist Sinn Fein surprised predictions to became the second biggest party in parliament, setting them up for a place in a coalition government.

The party's leader Mary Lou McDonald has said she "may well be the next taoiseach (prime minister)" and has begun talks with smaller parties to see if Sinn Fein could govern without the two main parties.

A new government could be in place before the royals visit.

Sinn Fein was the political wing of the now-defunct Irish Republican Army paramilitary group, which sought to end British rule in Northern Ireland through violence.

The IRA in 1979 assassinated William's great-great uncle Louis Mountbatten, the last viceroy of British-ruled India, who had been a mentor to his father Prince Charles.

William named his second son Prince Louis.

Senior royals have met senior Sinn Fein figures before, notably Queen Elizabeth and Charles, who has made five visits to Ireland over the past five years in a sign of the new footing in Anglo-Irish relations ushered in by the queen's 2011 tour.

Of all her state visits, the queen's trip to Ireland was perhaps the most transformative, healing deep-rooted unease.

No British monarch had set foot in what is now the Republic of Ireland since her grandfather king George V in 1911, before independence from Britain in 1922.

William, second in line to the throne behind Charles, is the honorary colonel of the Irish Guards, a British army regiment. He married Kate in his uniform in 2011.

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