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Coveney and Chambers to represent Government at Northern Ireland centenary service

Last month, President Michael D Higgins announced he had declined his invitation.

Simon Coveney and Jack Chambers
Simon Coveney and Jack Chambers

MINISTER FOR FOREIGN Affairs Simon Coveney and Government Chief Whip Jack Chambers are to attend a church service marking Northern Ireland’s centenary which will be attended by the queen, the Government has confirmed.

The prayer service has been organised by the four main churches in the North to mark the centenary of the creation of Northern Ireland.

Last month, President Michael D Higgins announced he had declined his invitation to the service because he believed it was not politically neutral and because he had concerns about the title of the event.

He said his decision to decline the invitation to the service had come after six months of consideration. 

President Higgins’ decision was subsequently met with criticism from some Unionists. 

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said it was a “retrograde step” in terms of reconciliation and added that he hopes the president will reconsider.

In a statement this evening, the Government has confirmed that Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney and Government Chief Whip Jack Chambers will be attending the service. 

“In considering the invitation, the Government noted that its role in this matter is clearly distinct from that of the President,” the statement said. 

“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.” 

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said the Government “should follow the lead of Uachtarán na hÉireann”.

“No member of the Irish Government should participate in the commemoration of partition – a catastrophic event for Ireland. The decision to attend is wrong. Very wrong.”

Following the news that the President will not be attending the service, a joint statement by the church leaders which set out their reasons for organising the event was issued.

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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