Government likely to send a representative to partition event in North, despite Higgins' refusal

If invited, the Government probably wouldn't snub the centenary event, but is not likely to send a 'top tier' minister
Government likely to send a representative to partition event in North, despite Higgins' refusal

President Michael D Higgins declined to attend the event, due to take place in Co Armagh next month. File Picture: Maxwells

The Government is still likely to send a representative to the partition event in the North next month, despite President Michael D Higgins' refusal to attend

While there may be a refusal to send what one source described as a “top tier” minister, should an invitation be forthcoming, the Government is unlikely to reject it entirely.

To send a high-profile minister would be seen by some as directly undermining President Higgins’ stance that the event had changed from a religious service to a “political statement”. However, the sending of a less obvious person could help with the Government’s efforts to foster good cross-border relations.

Government seeks to de-escalate tensions

Following the controversy surrounding President Higgins’ refusal to attend, there have been calls for calm from Dublin which is keen to de-escalate an already tense situation in the North.

Speaking earlier today, Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath said the Government will consider any invitation it receives relating to the centenary event in Armagh next month, but none has arrived.

“What we will do as a Government is we will come to a collective view, if and when an invitation is extended to us. That has not happened, to date,” he said.

Mr McGrath emphasised the need to avoid division and acrimony on this issue, and said the Government would calmly assess any invitation if issued.

I think it's important that we tried to tone down the debate here, and avoid division and acrimony. We don't want to see a situation where tensions are escalated. The Government will consider this in a calm and mature way, if and when an invitation is extended to us.

President Higgins’ criticisms of the Democratic Unionist Party over his decision not to attend was “very damaging” to cross-border relations, a leading unionist said today.

Former leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, Mike Nesbitt, said the remarks by President Higgins break protocol and said the comments were akin to the British Queen making critical comments about Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael.

“Some of the remarks that the President of Ireland made about a political party, which happens to be the DUP, and I hold no torch for the DUP, break protocol,” he said: 

You could not imagine any circumstances in which the head of state of the United Kingdom, Her Majesty The Queen, would make those sort of comments about a political party, about Labour or Conservative. Or the better analogy would be, could you imagine Queen Elizabeth making critical remarks about Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael, and that is very damaging.

“It will not define who Michael D Higgins is, but unfortunately from a unionist perspective, it may define his legacy, it may contribute in a significant way to how unionists view his presidency,” he told the BBC’s Sunday Politics.

Such comments should not have been made by a head of state, Mr Nesbitt said.

In Rome, President Higgins hit out at the DUP criticism over his decision to turn down the invitation.

“It’s a bit much, to be frank with you,” he said at the time. “I have gone up to Northern Ireland to take part in events. There often has not been a great deal of traffic down from the DUP people who are criticising me now.”

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