Border TD criticises plan for FF colleague to attend controversial NI church service

Niamh Smyth: Jack Chambers should not attend event Michael D Higgins turned down

Niamh Smyth and Jack Chambers. Photographs: Oireachtas/Collins

Niamh Smyth and Jack Chambers. Photographs: Oireachtas/Collins

 

A Fianna Fáil TD on the Border has criticised the planned attendance of Government chief whip Jack Chambers, Fianna Fáil TD for Dublin West, at a controversial church service marking a century of Irish partition.

Niamh Smyth, who represents Cavan-Monaghan, said she did not think it was “necessary” to have her party colleague at the event in Armagh Cathedral, which President Michael D Higgins has declined to attend.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney and Mr Chambers are to represent the Government at the cross-community service marking the formation of Northern Ireland on October 21st.

Ms Smyth, reportedly one of a number of Fianna Fail TDs uneasy at the decision to send Mr Chambers, said she believed the Government “has a role in acknowledging and participating in marking the occasion”.

“However, I feel the appropriate person to do that is the Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, and I believe that is enough in terms of the Government’s input into that particular event,” she said.

Ms Smyth said she “certainly” did not think it necessary for Mr Chambers to attend “when we have the Minister for Foreign Affairs, who is available and has agreed to attend”.

“I live in a Border constituency where partition brought a lot of strife, a lot of loss of life, a lot of social injustice,”she told told BBC News NI on Sunday.

“It [the centenary] certainly doesn’t mark a prosperous or a good time in the history of Ireland.

“There will be very strong feelings in relation to that. But I am also mindful of the fact that we do have to reach out to those who have a different perspective than us.

“I do want to see a united Ireland in my lifetime and I believe that we do have to reach out the hand of friendship, and the Government – by sending the Minister for Foreign Affairs, I believe – signals that, without sending the Government chief whip.”

On Friday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin defended the decision to send two Government representatives, which he said “doesn’t in any way undermine the position of the President”.

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

Mr Martin said the President “comes at these issues from a different perspective” to the Government, adding, “You can take it from me, there is no issue there in terms of the Government decision or no sense of any difference”.

Sinn Féin declined an invitation, while all of the North’s other main political parties are to be represented at the service. Queen Elizabeth has also been invited.

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