Government to make ‘collective’ decision on invitation to NI event, says Taoiseach


Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the government would make a “collective decision” on how to respond to an invitation to attend a controversial religious ceremony marking Northern Ireland’s centenary.

The “Service of Reflection and Hope to Mark the Centenary of the Partition of Ireland and the Formation of Northern Ireland” takes place at St Patrick’s Church of Ireland, Armagh, on October 21.

President Michael D Higgins has declined the invitation to the interfaith service, which will be attended by Queen Elizabeth.

Mr Higgins said a reference to the partition of Ireland in the title of the event politicized her in a way that made her participation inappropriate.

The Irish Times reported on Friday that invitations to attend the interfaith ceremony were to be sent to the Irish and UK governments on Friday.

Asked about the invitation on the last day of his visit to New York for United Nations meetings, Martin said there was an indication the government would receive the invitation to the event.

When asked if he would participate and if there was a reason why he would not, Martin said the government would consider the invitation and make a “collective decision”.

Mr. Martin also responded to the letter written by leaders of the Catholic and Protestant churches who organized the event where they expressed their sadness at the “polarized political commentary” that arose.

The BBC reported that its letter did not mention Mr Higgins and also said it understood some would not feel able to attend.

Mr. Martin said commemoration is “a difficult issue in itself and must be done with sensitivity.”

He said: “It has to be done without any kind of coercion, intentional or not.”

Mr Martin said he respected the organizers “in terms of what they are trying to do and their good faith”.

He also said he fully respects the president’s decision not to attend. “I understand where he came from,” said Martin.

“I have said this regularly and he was very committed to the commemoration,” added Mr. Martin.

He also said: “We don’t want the commemorations in themselves or the events in themselves to create divisions, whether intentional or not. “

Mr Martin said he believed the previous phase of commemorations from 2016 had been handled well as a country.

“Not everyone would have come to our events and that’s also understandable.

“But I think we just have to work together in a spirit of commitment here, to do it in a way that is sensitive to the issues and also the impacts in terms of the current contemporary situation.”

“Little or no interest”

Democratic Unionist Party leader Jeffrey Donaldson accused Higgins on Friday of having no respect for Northern Ireland and “little or no interest” in a future shared with unionism.

His comments follow a statement from the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church, who said the title of a controversial ecumenical service had been discussed in advance but no concerns were raised with organizers by the president Higgins.

Reverend David Bruce said the title of the service had been approved by the Church Leaders Group “after very careful consultation with both officials from the office in Northern Ireland and Dublin through the Foreign Office and we did not ‘had no feedback suggesting this was going to happen. be problematic.

President Higgins said last week that he raised concerns about the title of the event in March, arguing that it was not a “politically neutral statement” and that he could not not attend if it was not changed.

Regarding the President’s concerns about the title, Reverend Bruce said, “We are not saying that President Michael D Higgins did not raise these issues, but we are saying he did not raise them with us.

Speaking on Radio Ulster on Friday morning, Reverend Bruce said: “We explored the details of the service, not just its title but its content and purpose with those responsible and we did it early on and signals that we received in return, both from London and Dublin, were positive and warm and it was on that basis that we proceeded.

Mr Donaldson, MP for Lagan Valley, said the statement by church leaders made it clear “that the presidential office and titles were respected by the organizers and that there was no known diplomatic attempt to change what whether it is about the intercommunity event “.

“Just a categorical refusal to attend,” he said. “The Irish Head of State’s rejection of this event is a signal to trade unionists that the presidential office does not respect Northern Ireland as an entity and has little or no interest in a common future with trade unionism.

“Such a position shows how far the office headed by Michael D Higgins has strayed from the shared future principles it once espoused.”

He said the lack of respect for the existence of Northern Ireland “indicates that the office of Michael D Higgins is truly a champion of United Ireland rather than a leader of reconciliation”.

“This saga has been a sad reflection on many years of raising awareness among trade unionists like me and others,” he said.

Partition

In the Radio Ulster interview, Reverend Bruce admitted that the score is a matter of division. “But it’s a political fact and what we’re trying to do here is think about its effects. Some, of course, saw it as tragic, as an attack on Irish and a yearning for a sovereign Republic of 32 counties.

“Others saw it as a triumph of the art of governing, something which was necessary and respected those with a different point of view in the six counties of Northern Ireland which became Northern Ireland”, did he declare.

“We have recognized and accepted the political realities of this, but we seek to think carefully and wisely and well over 100 years.”

Next month’s service is organized, led and led by Church leaders, he said. “There will be no state pageantry, no military parades, music or flags. This is a religious service that church leaders invite a variety of people to come and reflect on. It is, in a sense, a private non-state worship service.

He confirmed that further invitations to the service were sent to Irish and UK government officials on Friday.

“We recognize and recognize of course that not everyone will be able to attend the service, but the invitations are offered in good faith on behalf of all of us as church leaders representing all traditions, all Christian traditions on this island. . “

He said he was “saddened” by the president’s decision not to attend.

“I have immense respect for the President, his commitment to reconciliation, his engagement with others who differ from him in the past has been impressive and I wish him well. I respect and, speaking on behalf of all of us as church leaders, as a group, we respect his decision as the head of state.

On the reaction of politicians to the president’s decision, he said: “Politics in Ireland is torn and divided by its very nature and there is a phrase we use in our statement that we need to maximize the ways in which we can well. to differ. Delaying well allows progress on this island, ”he said, citing the Belfast agreement as a model.


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