President pulls out of Belfast 1916 event over political divisions

Michael D Higgins did not ‘want to become embroiled in matters of political controversy’

President Michael D Higgins at the opening of the new visitor centre in Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

President Michael D Higgins at the opening of the new visitor centre in Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

President Michael D. Higgins has pulled out of attending a civic dinner in Belfast to mark the centenary of the Easter Rising due to a lack of cross-party support for the event.

The President was due to be guest of honour at the commemorative event in Belfast City Hall on April 8th.

However, he withdrew from the occasion because it had not garnered enough cross-party support. Mr Higgins “does not want to become embroiled in matters of political controversy,” a spokeman for Áras an Uachtaráin said.

“The President accepted the invitation to the civic dinner on the basis that there was cross-party support for the invitation,” he said. “This now is no longer the case, leaving the President with no other option but to withdraw as he does not want to become embroiled in matters of political controversy.”

Mr Higgins wrote to the Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Belfast Arder Carson earlier this week and expressed his disappointment that he would not be in a position to speak at the civic dinner.

It is understood it had been the President’s intention to focus on the wider historical context of 1916, and to speak about both the Easter Rising and the Battle of the Somme.

He has spoken on a number of occasions of the importance of examining in full the complexity of this particular historical period and hopes to have an opportunity to address this subject on another occasion.

‘Extremely disappointed’

Mr Carson said he was “extremely disappointed” and had received a letter from Mr Higgins outlining his reasons for pulling out.

“Both personally, and on behalf of Belfast City Council, I am extremely disappointed that the President is no longer attending this event, part of our Decade of Centenaries programme,” he said.

“The overall programme for the decade was agreed by full council and has cross-party support; and that position has not changed.

“A lot of hard work has gone into creating an inclusive programme of events which is respectful of all viewpoints and which focuses on the key events of our shared history, and those which have impacted on our city.

“In this important year which reflects on the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising and the Battle of the Somme, Belfast City Council has shown leadership in how we mark these events and I would wish that to continue.

“The dinner will, of course, be going ahead on April 8th and I am very much looking forward to the occasion.”