Queen bows out of Armagh centenary service on advice from doctors

Controversial service marking partition to go ahead without two heads of state

 

A church service marking the centenary of the partition of Ireland and the formation of Northern Ireland will go ahead in Armagh on Thursday without the heads of state of either Ireland or Britain.

Queen Elizabeth, who had been due to attend the service, on Wednesday cancelled a two-day trip to the North, citing advice from doctors.

“The queen has reluctantly accepted medical advice to rest for the next few days,” a Buckingham Palace spokesman said.

An official ceremony elevating the village of Hillsborough, Co Down to royal status went ahead in her absence.

In a statement, the organisers of the service, the Church Leaders’ Group, expressed sorrow that the queen could not attend.

“We wish to convey to Her Majesty our good wishes and, in doing so, to acknowledge the significance of her commitment to the work of peace and reconciliation, which has meant a great deal to people throughout this island,” they said, adding that they hoped the service would “provide an opportunity to further that work, with an emphasis on our shared hopes for the future”.

Decline

There was controversy last month over the decision by President Michael D Higgins to decline an invitation to the event organised by the leaders of Ireland’s five main Christian churches. He said the title of the event was politicised and it would not be appropriate for him to attend.

About 130 people are expected to attend the service at St Patrick’s Church of Ireland cathedral.

They include Britain’s prime minister Boris Johnson; Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney; Government chief whip Jack Chambers; Northern Ireland’s First Minister Paul Givan; the leaders of the DUP, UUP, SDLP and Alliance parties and Northern secretary Brandon Lewis. Sinn Féin will not attend.

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson, who had been critical of Mr Higgins’s decision not to attend, told The Irish Times it was “for different reasons, unfortunately, that we don’t have Her Majesty and the President present for the service.

“But I think that is no reason for those of us who will attend not to recommit ourselves to the task at hand . . . and that we focus very much on how we take Northern Ireland forward,” he said.

Commitment

Mr Donaldson said he welcomed the presence of Mr Johnson as an “indication of his commitment to Northern Ireland and his place within the Union” and that of the Irish Government, which he described as “a sign that there are those in Government who want to strengthen the relationships that are at the heart of our political arrangements and to enhance co-operation”.

He said the service was a “signpost to the future as much as it is about marking what has happened in the past” and that it was “important, whatever our political views, that we can come together on occasions like this to recognise that we’ve been through what has been at times a very difficult 100 years, but also that we’ve achieved a lot as well”.

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