The group of church leaders, which are hosting the Northern Ireland Centenary Service in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh next month, have learned for the first time that President Michael D Higgins will not be attending through media, sources said.
There is also concern within the group, for security reasons, that Queen Elizabeth’s expected attendance at the event was disclosed last week. This was described by one source as “a serious error in judgment”.
Some believe it could mean the Queen may now not attend. Details of his visits to Northern Ireland are not disclosed in advance.
Last Wednesday, it was reported that President Higgins declined an invitation to attend church service with the Queen. Mr Higgins’ spokesperson also said that “the President, through his office, has already conveyed his good wishes to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II”.
Additionally, in a statement released on Monday, the Church Leaders’ Group co-secretaries confirmed that the first time they heard of the decision to decline the invitation was through the media.
Reverend Trevor Gribben, clerk of the general assembly and secretary general of the Presbyterian Church of Ireland, and Reverend Heather Morris, secretary of the Methodist Conference, said an invitation to service was sent to President Higgins on May 20.
“Last week, President Higgins himself told the media that he had responded and declined the invitation. We can confirm that this is correct, ”they said.
“Moment of reflection”
It is understood that Rev. Gribben and Rev. Morris had dealt on behalf of the group of church leaders with Áras an Uachtaráin and the Foreign Office regarding the invitation.
Last March, the Northern Ireland office included the Armagh service among the events planned to mark Northern Ireland’s centenary this year. This prompted an intervention from the Church Leaders’ Group, which requested that the service be removed from this schedule as it was not a political event.
In a March 12 statement, the group said it was “deeply aware that the events of 100 years ago are prompting a range of responses from communities on these islands. For this reason, this reflection point will be an opportunity to affirm our common commitment to peace, healing and reconciliation.
They continued, “The service will therefore be initiated by the leaders of the church, and the leaders of the church will be fully responsible for its planning, organization and design. “
On March 17, the group released a long, joint St. Patrick’s Day statement on the service and its background.
Among those who support the service the most is the Catholic Primate Eamon Martin. Last December, the Archbishop criticized politicians for refusing to engage in the events marking the creation of Northern Ireland.
“I would like to see the centenary of 2021 as an opportunity for better mutual understanding, for opportunities to build more reconciliation and peace,” he said in an interview with Irish Catholic.
“I’m somewhat disappointed that many of our Nationalist and Republican political leaders have completely rejected the centenary of 2021 because for me I think it’s really important to take it as a moment to reflect on where we’ve come from.” , did he declare.
He warned that a united Ireland will never be achieved unless nationalists are prepared to listen to those who fear the prospect of reunification. “As a nationalist myself, having grown up in a nationalist community, I would like this feeling of belonging to be something that can be shared by all the inhabitants of the island of Ireland,” he said. -he declares.
The division of the island in 1921 had caused “great sadness: a feeling of separation, a feeling of loss with the partition of the island”, within the Catholic / nationalist community at large, he said. declared.
At the same time “for the Unionists and even the loyalist communities of Northern Ireland this represents for them an important moment in the creation of the State of Northern Ireland”, he said.
“If there is to be greater mutual understanding and living together on the island of Ireland, then we must be able to cope with difficult times and difficult episodes in our history; we need to be able to face it openly, ”he said.