Sinn Fein demands Ireland snubs Queen over Northern Ireland centenary

Furious Sinn Fein demands Ireland snubs the Queen and stays away from ceremony to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland saying it celebrates ‘devastating’ event in island’s history

  • Ireland planning to send foreign minister Simon Coveney to service in Armagh 
  • Marks centenary of NI creation when the rest of Ireland was granted home rule
  •  Ceremony will also be attended by unionists and moderate republicans
  • Sinn Fein politician said it would commemorate ‘devastating’ partition 

Furious Irish nationalists Sinn Fein have demanded Dublin snubs an event to mark 100 years of Northern Ireland that is due to be attended by the Queen. 

The republic is planning to send its foreign minister Simon Coveney to the service in Armagh later this month, which will also be attended by unionists and moderate republicans.

It will mark the centenary of the creation of the province, which remained part of the United Kingdom when the rest of Ireland was granted home rule and became the Irish Free State.

But Sinn Fein reacted with fury at the decision to send Mr Coveney and will not send a representative to the event.

Last month the Irish president Michael D Higgins caused controversy when he said he would not attend the service in Armagh because he believed it was not politically neutral.

Pearse Doherty, who represents Sinn Fein in the Dail, told the Irish Times: ‘There are many ways in which we can forward the issues of reconciliation across the island of Ireland. 

‘Sinn Féin have been party to them including different events including meeting Queen Elizabeth in the past. 

‘But this isn’t about reconciliation. This is about commemorating partition, an act that had a devastating impact on our country.’ 

The prayer service, which the Queen is expected to attend, has been organised by the four main churches in Northern Ireland.

The republic is planning to send its foreign minister Simon Coveney to the service in Armagh later this month, with will also be attended by unionists and moderate republicans.

Last month the Irish president Michael D Higgins caused controversy when he said he would not attend because he believed it was not politically neutral

Pearse Doherty, who represents Sinn Fein in the Dail, told the Irish Times: ‘This is about commemorating partition, an act that had a devastating impact on our country’

The prayer service, which the Queen is expected to attend, has been organised by the four main churches in Northern Ireland. 

A statement from the Irish Government said that it would be sending Mr Coveney, as well as Government chief whip Jack Chambers. 

However, it also said that it gave ‘full support’ to the decision by the president not to attend.

The statement said: ‘The Government has today considered the invitation which it received from the Church Leaders Group to the Service of Reflection and Hope which the group is organising in Armagh later this month.

‘In considering the invitation, the Government noted that its role in this matter is clearly distinct from that of the president.

‘In that regard, the Government reiterates its full support and understanding for the decision made by president Higgins with regard to his attendance at the event.

‘That decision was quite properly made by the president and was based on concerns that he had consistently expressed.

‘Cognisant of that important distinction, and in recognition also of the spirit and intentions of the church leaders in organising the event, the Government has decided that it will be represented at the event by the minister for foreign affairs and by the Government chief whip.’

Colum Eastwood, leader of the nationalist SDLP, has also said his party will attend the church service because he believed it would help to ‘break down barriers’.

He said: ‘Attending a church service in Armagh, the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland, to mark the centenary of partition does not diminish anyone’s Irish nationalism.

‘It will however, I hope, help to break down the barriers of distrust that have endured between our communities.’

The Foyle MP added: ‘The decision we have made wasn’t motivated by the establishment or the churches. This is about stretching ourselves to heal the wounds of partition.

‘It is about reaching beyond ourselves and reaching out to people from a different tradition, many of whom are considering a new future for our island for the first time.

Colum Eastwood, leader of the nationalist SDLP, has also said his party will attend the church service because he believed it would help to ‘break down barriers’

‘My job as a leader of nationalism is to speak to them, to hear their concerns and to convince them that change is possible.

‘I understand that this will be a challenging decision for some and others have come to a different determination. But it wasn’t difficult for me.

‘Given the choice between remaining in the trenches of the last 100 years or reaching out to build a new future, I know which side I want to be on.’ 

Unionists in Northern Ireland were heavily critical of the decision by president Higgins not to attend the cross-community service.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said he had ‘set back north-south relations’ in Ireland.

Mr Higgins said that he declined his invitation because he believed it was not politically neutral and because he had concerns about the title of the event.

The leaders of the Church of Ireland, Catholic, Presbyterian and Methodist churches said the service was to ‘explore the opportunity to deepen the work of reconciliation in a context of respectful dialogue’.

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