UK government aware of Rising sensitivities, Theresa Villiers says

NI Secretary of State responds after Minister says royal family ‘unlikely’ to attend 1916 ceremony

Secretary of state for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers has said the British government “fully recognises” the sensitivities surrounding the decision not to have a British royal presence at the commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Secretary of state for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers has said the British government “fully recognises” the sensitivities surrounding the decision not to have a British royal presence at the commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

The secretary of state for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers has said the British government “fully recognises” the sensitivities surrounding the decision not to have a British royal presence at the commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising.

Responding to comments from Minister of State Aodhán Ó Ríordáin at the weekend that it is now “extremely unlikely” a member of the British royal family will attend the 100th anniversary commemorations of the 1916 Easter Rising next year, Ms Villiers said it was always going to be guided by what was decided by the Irish government.

In an interview with The Irish Times in Dublin, Ms Villiers said both administrations had the shared goal of highlighting reconciliation in an atmosphere of understanding and inclusivity.

“We have seen important joint events. In particular, a reflection on those from the whole of the island of Ireland who died in the first World War was a very important part of the commemorations,” she said.

“As for the 2016 events, we fully recognise the sensitivities and we will be guided by the Irish government. There is a series of broadly-based events and if invited then we will be delighted to participate.”

Dublin visit

Ms Villiers was on a two-day visit to Dublin to hold meetings with Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan and with other political figures, including Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin.

Ms Villiers accepted it was probably her last visit to Dublin as secretary of state for the North. The British general election is in 86 days time and if the Conservatives are returned to power the indications are that she will be in line for promotion.

Ms Villiers’s legacy from her time as secretary of state will be the Stormont House Agreement, reached on December 23rd, 2014. However, implementation of the key breakthrough issues, including welfare reform, flags and parades, as well as structural amendments, will prove problematic.

Ms Villiers insisted the agreement was still on track and that all sides were still willing to stick to implementation. She said there had been some progress on parades and flags.

Ms Villiers said she was also “very confident” the legislation to lower the rate of corporation tax in the North to 12.5 per cent would be on the statute books by the end of March and that the new rate could become effective by spring of 2017.

McGuinness threat

On the reported threat of a rocket attack on Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness made by dissident republicans, Ms Villiers said that while such groups had virtually no public support , “they are potentially lethal”.

On allegations of criminal activity and smuggling by groups and individuals with Provisional IRA connections, Ms Villiers replied: “It is very clear the Provisional IRA remains committed to ceasefire, but there are concerns in individual paramilitary groups who continue to be involved in criminality.”

She said the PSNI had taken big efforts to tackle this and had been broadly successful.

Ms Villiers said that the Conservatives had a good chance to return to government. If that happens, she said, “there will certainly be a referendum on EU membership”.

“It is right that people of the UK be given their say on whether we remain members of the EU.

David Cameron wants to give them a clear choice between a reformed relationship with Europe and leaving. The status quo is something that we are not happy with.

“It should be more focused. When they last had a vote in the mid 1970s the understanding and expectation was that it was primarily about trade and business and generating prosperity,” she said.