DUP queries whether President is ‘snubbing’ North centenary events

Peter Weir writes to Michael D Higgins over decision not to attend church service

The DUP has questioned whether President Michael D Higgins is ‘snubbing’ events marking Northern Ireland’s centenary. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

The DUP has questioned whether President Michael D Higgins is ‘snubbing’ events marking Northern Ireland’s centenary. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Your Web Browser may be out of date. If you are using Internet Explorer 9, 10 or 11 our Audio player will not work properly.
For a better experience use Google Chrome, Firefox or Microsoft Edge.

 

The DUP has questioned whether President Michael D Higgins is “snubbing” events marking Northern Ireland’s centenary after it emerged he declined an invitation to attend a commemorative church service with Queen Elizabeth.

DUP Assembly member Peter Weir also asked if Mr Higgins was joining Sinn Féin and the SDLP in “boycotting” such events, a move which he said “speaks volumes” about Ireland’s “commitment to reconciliation and progress”.

Mr Weir said on Wednesday he had written to Mr Higgins “asking if his office is officially snubbing all events marking this milestone in the decade of centenaries”. If this was the case, Mr Weir said, “I have urged him to think again”.

Ulster Unionist MLA and former party leader Mike Nesbitt also queried why Mr Higgins was unable to attend the service and said it was “surprising, uncharacteristic and regrettable”.

However, he said the reciprocal state visits of the queen to Ireland and Mr Higgins to Britain were “the high water mark in Anglo-Irish relations”. He said Mr Higgins has “shown a consistent willingness to outreach and a focus on reconciliation. So until we know the reason why he can’t attend we cannot be critical.”

Armagh service

The Service of Reflection and Hope, taking place in Armagh next month, will mark 100 years since the partition of Ireland and the creation of Northern Ireland. It is organised by the leaders of the island’s main Christian churches, who had anticipated Mr Higgins would take part as head of State.

However it has emerged that Mr Higgins would not be present. Mr Higgins, who is on a four-day visit to Rome, has not yet commented on his decision.

The President attended a meeting of non-executive presidents from 14 EU States yesterday but made no public comment other than remarks on the meeting itself.

His spokesman had told The Irish Times on Tuesday that the President was “not in a position to attend” the service. He did not elaborate on Wednesday or say why the President could not attend. Asked about the DUP’s remarks, his spokesman said the President had nothing further to add.

The President does not need to request Government permission to travel to Northern Ireland so the decision was made by his office, without reference to the Department of the Taoiseach. Sources said a Government representative will attend the service but it had not yet received an invitation.

The Catholic primate Archbishop Eamon Martin, the Church of Ireland primate Archbishop John McDowell and other church leaders will be present at the service on October 21st.

It is being organised by the Church Leaders’ Group “as part of their wider programme of collective engagement around the 1921 centenaries, with an emphasis on their common Christian commitment to peace, healing and reconciliation.”

A statement on Wednesday from the group - which is made up of the two Archbishops, the Presbyterian Moderator and the presidents of the Methodist church and the Irish Council of Churches - did not reference Mr Higgins but said the service was “offered as a contribution to the work of building community and deepening relationships”.

A spokesman for Dr Martin commented earlier that “the important thing is that this service is going ahead. It is an initiative of the main Christian denominations on this island and is underpinned by prayer, peace and reconciliation”.