President Higgins and NI centenary event


Sir, – In June, President Michael D Higgins delivered a keynote address at the American Conference of Irish Studies at Ulster University’s Magee Campus in Derry. During his speech, he said: “For the sake of the future we will share, we must be unshackled from the snares of the past”.

How surprising then that he has now declined to attend an ecumenical church service in Armagh marking the centenary of Northern Ireland (“DUP queries whether President is ‘snubbing’ North centenary events”, News, September 16th). The service has been organised by all the main Christian churches and will be attended by the UK’s Queen Elizabeth. You revealed that President Higgins doesn’t need Government permission to attend, so presumably his refusal is his own decision.

Northern Ireland was excluded from the Irish Free State under the terms of the 1920 Government of Ireland Act. During the heated Treaty debates in Dáil Éireann in 1922, it was hardly mentioned at all. Of 338 pages of debate printed in the Dáil report, only nine dealt with partition. The “casus belli” for the subsequent Civil War was the Oath of Allegiance to George V and the failure to achieve a “republic”. Arguably the establishment of Northern Ireland saved us from a calamitous all-Ireland sectarian civil war that would have left this island resembling modern-day Lebanon. Surely that is worth commemorating if nothing else? – Yours, etc,



Dublin 13.

A chara, – For months during the summer, we had the DUP stymying and stalling North-South meetings and visits. And now? Faux outrage over the President’s decision not to attend a ceremony in Armagh. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t is the DUP way. – Yours, etc,


Cill Chríost,

Co na Gaillimhe.

Sir, – So the DUP feels that Michael D Higgins’s non-attendance at one of the Northern Ireland centenary commemoration events is a snub. I think we can safely assume that it would have felt outraged if he had accepted the invitation. – Yours, etc,



Co Wicklow.

A chara, – If Karl Doyle (Letters, September 16th) wishes “to attend a church service” with Queen Elizabeth, then so be it; however, President Higgins, as head of state and President of the Republic of Ireland, is being invited to attend a commemoration of the centenary of Northern Ireland. If Mr Doyle cannot see the inconsistency and awkwardness there, I cannot easily point them out to him. In the circumstances, the President’s statement was sufficiently informative and eloquent. – Is mise,





Sir, – It should surely go without saying that for many people, the colonialist partition of Ireland is not something to celebrate. Nor is it something to uncritically “commemorate”, which is close to the same thing.

President Michael D Higgins was right to politely decline the invitation to the centenary church service. To invoke an alternative engagement would have been disingenuous, unnecessary, and beneath his office.

I propose that it is best if we move on. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 4.

A chara, – President Michael D Higgins is to be congratulated for deciding not to attend the church service with Queen Elizabeth marking the island’s partition and the Northern Ireland centenary. One does not have to be a staunch republican to see the partition of the island as an historic injustice imposed on Ireland against the wishes of the vast majority of the population on the island at that time.

In doing so, the British Empire engaged in its classic strategy of “divide and conquer”, and impoverished both parts of Ireland politically, economically and socially for much of the past century. Partition was only accepted by the pro-Treaty side in our Civil War under threat of “terrible and immediate war” by the British and has been the source of division and unrest ever since.

It would be humiliating for our President to give his stamp of approval to the creation of that division, especially now, as under the terms of the Belfast Agreement, it may be reviewed in due course. It is also hypocritical for the Christian churches to celebrate what was essentially a sectarian split between an artificially created Protestant majority in the North, and a Catholic Church-dominated republic in the South.

The churches put their institutional and political interests ahead of their Christian duty to unite all the people of Ireland and should not be proud of that fact. Partition was the result of the actions of “perfidious Albion” and a failure of leadership on this island by the leaders of all communities, and far from celebrating it, we should be working to end it.

Queen Elizabeth is welcome to visit Ireland at any time, but that does not mean that our President should endorse the purpose of her visit on this occasion. – Is mise,



Co Wicklow.

Sir, – While the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches were not sundered by the Government of Ireland Act 1920, the political impact was very direct and had horrific consequences. Why should the Irish State, represented by our President, be expected to attend a religious ceremony of remembrance of an Act imposed without the assent of the majority of Ireland’s citizens? It’s equivalent to asking a child to attend a ceremony of remembrance of their parents’ divorce. Thankfully, sense prevails. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 6.

Sir, – The President’s decision to decline the invitation to attend an event celebrating the establishment of the Northern Ireland parliament is to be welcomed. To attend would have ignored the damage done to this nation by a cowardly British government, which failed to confront a powerful minority. I am all for constitutional methods of resolving the continuing lack of real accommodation between the two traditions, but inviting the President to attend a glorification of the disgraceful imposition of partition on this country is a step too far. – Yours, etc,



Co Cavan.

A chara, – I fully agree with Karl Doyle (Letters, September 15th) regarding our President’s mysterious failure to attend the Church service with Queen Elizabeth. However, the President’s non-attendance does more than “mistreat” the office, it also reflects badly on us all, since Mr Higgins, as our head of state, represents the people of the nation, those who elected him, those who didn’t vote for him, but all of whom ought to be represented in a respectful manner. – Yours, etc,




Co Cavan.