'Partition costs us to this day' - McDonald defends President's decision not to attend NI event

'Partition costs us to this day' - McDonald defends President's decision not to attend NI event

President Higgins said  that the event's title was an issue, as it was described as commemorating "the centenaries of the partition of Ireland and the formation of Northern Ireland. File Picture

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has defended the President's decision not to attend an event alongside Britain's Queen Elizabeth in Northern Ireland next month. 

Ms McDonald said President Higgins's declining of an invitation to the commemorative service in St Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh on October 21 was "the correct one."

"The partition of Ireland was a catastrophe for our people and our country," she said. 

"The partition of Ireland costs us to this day, holds us back, divides us. 

"Uachtarán na hÉireann has made clear his decision not to attend a commemorative event. His decision is the correct one."

Former Taoiseach calls on President to reverse decision

Earlier, Former Taoiseach John Bruton called on President Michael Higgins to reverse his decision.

Mr Bruton accused the President of poor judgment in declining the invitation and of being in breach of his constitutional obligations.

“It would be a very brave decision for the President to change his mind, it would be difficult. But I think sometimes in life one makes mistakes," he said adding that he should have the "strength of character" to recognise the mistake.

Given the sensitivity of the event, Mr Bruton suggested that the President should have consulted the Government before responding to the invitation.

"Article 39 of the Constitution is very clear that the President's powers and functions can only be exercised with the advice and on the advice of the Irish government," he claimed.

Former Taoiseach, John Bruton. File Picture
Former Taoiseach, John Bruton. File Picture

"It seems to me that the President clearly ought to have taken and followed the advice of the government and not acted on his own," Mr Bruton told RTÉ's Today with Claire Byrne show.

President denies 'snubbing' Queen Elizabeth  

Last night, President Higgins categorically denied that he has snubbed Britain's Queen Elizabeth by declining the invitation to the interdenominational ceremony.

Speaking to reporters the President, who is currently on a state visit to Rome, said the event's title was an issue, as it was described as commemorating "the centenaries of the partition of Ireland and the formation of Northern Ireland."

Mr Higgins said what had started off as an invitation to a religious service had recently morphed into a “political statement.” 

"What began as a religious service or reconciliation is now the celebrating, the marking, I think is the word used, the partition of Ireland and the creation of Northern Ireland. It’s a different thing,” he said.

The event itself is slated to take place in St Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh on October 21, with Queen Elizabeth due to attend.

He said that an event invitation was just that, and not “an instruction.” 

The President also said his invitation referred to him as "the President of the Republic of Ireland."

“I am the President of Ireland,” he said.

He found the title of the event “troubling” and had been considering his actions around this for a “long while”.

“It was in relation to how the event was titled. It’s not the event itself. Conciliation is fine. People can praise as much as they like. I am completely open to anyone in Northern Ireland of any Unionist tradition, completely, celebrating that in any way they like,” he said.

Responding to criticism levelled at him from current and past members of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in recent days, Mr Higgins said their claims of him snubbing the Queen were “a bit much, to be frank with you."

Yesterday, DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said he had written to President Higgins to seek a reason for his decision not to attend.

Mr Donaldson said many people would regard the step as “a snub” in terms of reconciliation and would assume “politics is at play”.

“There is no question of any snub intended to anybody. I am not snubbing anyone and I am not part of anyone’s boycott of any other events in Northern Ireland,” President Higgins said.

There often has not been a great deal of traffic down from the DUP people who are criticising me now.

“I am completely open to anyone in Northern Ireland of any Unionist tradition, completely, celebrating that in any way they like,” he said.

President Higgins wished the service well but said he had the right "to exercise a discretion as to what I think is appropriate for my attendance.”

He said that he would not be revisiting his decision to decline the invitation as on the day of the event in Armagh he will be hosting another event at Áras an Uachtaráin.

Coveney: President Higgins 'makes his own decisions'

Foreign Affairs Minister, Simon Coveney. File Picture: Damien Storan.
Foreign Affairs Minister, Simon Coveney. File Picture: Damien Storan.

Asked about the controversy during a trip to Belfast, Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said his department did not offer the President any advice on whether he should or should not attend.

“There was consultation between the Department of Foreign Affairs and the

"Áras on this issue and many other issues, but I can assure you President Higgins is the kind of person who makes his own decisions,” he said.

“He listens to all perspectives and then makes a judgment for himself.

“He’s made his decision on this. He’s given an explanation as to the basis for that decision and I think we need to respect that.”

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