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DUP asks President Higgins to 'think again' as he declines invite to service marking 100 years of partition

It’s understood Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II will be in attendance at the church service in Armagh.

President Michael D Higgins.
President Michael D Higgins.

A DUP MLA has urged President Michael D Higgins to “think again” after he declined an invitation to a church service in Armagh commemorating the partition of Ireland and the formation of Northern Ireland. 

It’s understood Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II will be in attendance at the service, which is being organised jointly by the main Christian churches on the island of Ireland to commemorate the centenary of Northern Ireland. 

The ‘Service of Reflection and Hope’ will be held on 21 October in Saint Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral, Armagh. 

A spokesperson for President Higgins has said he will not be attending the service.

“The President is not in a position to attend the ceremony, and this has been communicated to the organisers,” the spokesperson said.

The President, through his Office, has already conveyed his good wishes to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. The President has welcomed, and continues to welcome any opportunities to meet with Her Majesty and members of her family.

The service is part of a wider programme around 1921 centenaries being organised the Church Leaders Group, which includes senior clergy from the Catholic, Church of Ireland, Presbyterian and Methodist faiths. 

The group says the programme is being prepared to emphasise “common Christian commitment to peace, healing and reconciliation”. 

In a statement this afternoon, the DUP’s Strangford MLA Peter Weir has said he has written to President Higgins asking if his office is “boycotting” events which mark Northern Ireland’s centenary.

“The Republic of Ireland’s President has turned down an invitation to a service in Armagh marking the centenary of Northern Ireland. I have written to the Irish President asking if his office is officially snubbing all events marking this milestone in the decade of centenaries,” Weir said. 

If President Higgins is officially snubbing NI Centenary events, I have urged him to think again. This island has been living through a decade of centenary milestones. At every stage unionism has engaged positively and sought to use such events to advance reconciliation and peace.

Weir also criticised Sinn Féin and the SDLP for what he said was their decision to veto publicly funded events commemorating the creation of Northern Ireland and he asked whether President Higgins was following the lead of the two parties. 

“For such high office in the Republic of Ireland to join Sinn Fein and the SDLP in boycotting centenary events speaks volumes about that country’s commitment to reconciliation and progress,” he said. 

Armagh was chosen for the service due to its significance as Ireland’s ecclesiastical capital which dates back to the fifth century. 

Announcing plans for the service earlier this year, the Church Leaders Group said they were “deeply mindful that the events of 100 years ago evoke a range of responses from communities across these islands”. 

In a statement today, the Church Leaders Group said that next month’s service “is offered as a contribution to the work of building community and deepening relationships.”

The group did not provide a further comment to The Journal about the attendance of Queen Elizabeth II and President Higgins’ decision not to attend.  

A government spokesperson said that the matter was a “decision for the President” and that it wouldn’t be appropriate for the government to comment.

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The spokesperson added that they were not aware if the Taoiseach had been invited to the service. 

- With reporting by Christina Finn

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