SDLP to be represented at commemorative church service

Other main parties in North have confirmed their leaders will attend

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said his party’s decision to attend the church service scheduled for the 21st of this month is about his party’s decision to attend was ‘about stretching ourselves to heal the wounds of partition’. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said his party’s decision to attend the church service scheduled for the 21st of this month is about his party’s decision to attend was ‘about stretching ourselves to heal the wounds of partition’. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

 

The SDLP is to accept an invitation to a cross-community church service in Armagh marking the centenary of partition and the formation of Northern Ireland.

The party leader, Colum Eastwood, said that attending a service in the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland “does not diminish anyone’s Irish nationalism” but he hoped it would “help to break down the barriers of distrust that have endured between our communities.”

He said he understood this would be a “challenging decision for some, and others have come to a different determination.”

It is not clear who will attend on behalf of the SDLP but it is expected to be a senior party representative.

The DUP and the Ulster Unionist and Alliance parties confirmed to The Irish Times on Thursday that their respective party leaders Jeffrey Donaldson, Doug Beattie and Naomi Long had received invitations to the service, and would attend.

Last month the President declined an invitation from the five main Christian churches to attend the event, as he believed the title was politicised and it would not be appropriate for him to attend.

The church leaders have insisted the event is not political.

The Government is expected to approve plans on Thursday to send a cross-party delegation to the service.

It is due to be held in the Church of Ireland cathedral in Armagh on October 21st.

Sinn Féin has consistently said it will not attend. The party on Thursday said it stood by comments outlined by chairperson and Junior Minister in the Northern Executive Declan Kearney at an event organised by the churches in Belfast last month, which he described as a “welcome opportunity which afforded Sinn Féin a platform, and also those from other perspectives, to present their analysis and experience of partition in Ireland”.

“I made it clear to the churches that Sinn Féin would not be attending the Armagh event as unfortunately it does not afford the same opportunity to address the legacy of partition, which has been a disaster for the people of this island.”

Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland on Thursday it would be “wrong” for the Government to send a representative to the service.

In a statement on Thursday the SDLP leader said partition and commemoration were “deeply political events”.

“I fully understand why it was not possible for President Higgins to attend the event in Armagh. As President of Ireland he has different considerations to judge,” he said, adding that Mr Higgins had “dedicated himself and his presidency to reconciliation and understanding between our communities”.

However, he said his party’s decision to attend was “about stretching ourselves to heal the wounds of partition.

“It is about reaching beyond ourselves and reaching out to people from a different tradition, many of whom are considering a new future for our island for the first time.

“My job as a leader of nationalism is to speak to them, to hear their concerns and to convince them that change is possible,” he said.