The First Minister has led Senedd Members in paying tributes to the late Queen, highlighting what he said was her commitment to encouraging the development of democracy here in Wales. Mark Drakeford was speaking during an extraordinary recall session of the Welsh Parliament which saw members returning to Cardiff Bay on a Sunday in order to share their memories and send their best wishes to the Royal family.
Following a minute's silence, Elin Jones, the Senedd's Llywydd or Presiding Officer, said that "our opinions differ on very many aspects of Welsh life, and although our views may differ on the institution of monarchy itself, they will differ little on the way Elizabeth II executed her role as monarch over her lifetime of public service, how her wisdom and dedication to office was valued, and how we mourn her sad loss and hold her family in our thoughts. "Elizabeth II looked for what united, rather than what created division. We too can seek that unity today in our condolence."
Recalling the last visit of the Queen to the Senedd in October 2021, the First Minister told Senedd Members that "the history books will note that this sixth Senedd was the last of the four Parliaments of the UK to be opened by Queen Elizabeth II, less than 12 months ago." "And he linked that determination to overcome mobility problems to carry out that opening to a similar determination to open the first Senedd." "Now we know that it was the Queen's own personal decision, back in 1999, to come to Cardiff to open the first term of the Assembly. "She did that ignoring the advice provided to her. She returned here for the final time over 20 years later, in accordance with that personal commitment to Wales and its democratic institutions."
Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies praised the Queen's "unique gift of being able to focus on you as the individual, have you at the centre of that conversation and make you feel that you're the person, the only person, talking to her in that room." MSs laughed when recalling "a story at the 2011 opening of the Senedd when [the then Presiding Officer] Rosemary Butler was showing Her Majesty around, and she introduced myself to Her Majesty, and she said, 'That's that naughty farmer that I'm constantly reprimanding.' "Her Majesty, as quick as a flash and with a spark in her eyes said, 'Well, all farmers are naughty, aren't they?'"
Another farming anecdote was retold by the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, Jane Dodds, who recalled that "I was introduced as the Member representing Mid and West Wales, a large area of Wales; and I think I said something like, ‘We have more sheep than people in the area I represent’. "Her sharp and quick response to me was, ‘Well, how do you know what their views are?’"
'Bow to the past but not be bound by it'
Plaid Cymru's leader Adam Price praised what he said was the way that the Queen helped communities deal with controversial past conflicts in a way that politicians repeatedly failed to manage. "In 2011, on an historic first visit by a British monarch to the Irish Republic, she shocked pretty much everyone by laying a wreath and bowing her head at the garden of remembrance in Dublin, honouring all those who gave their lives in the name of Irish freedom. "In a speech at Dublin castle, she declared, 'With the benefit of historical hindsight we can all see things which we would wish had been done differently or not at all.'" Perhaps in a hint to the republican future that he and many others in the Senedd chamber would prefer, the Plaid Cymru leader told MSs that "For some, this will be a moment of great anxiety, but perhaps... as Queen Elizabeth begins her final journey and we consider what the future holds, we can follow the Queen's own injunction in that great Dublin speech to 'bow to the past but not be bound by it.'"