Unionists standing firm in refusal to attend 1916 celebration events

An upcoming event featuring the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, in Belfast is to be shunned by the DUP

An upcoming event featuring the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, in Belfast is to be shunned by the DUP

The DUP and UUP are maintaining a frosty attitude to attending any Easter Rising commemoration events – with a particular aversion to anything which smacks of celebrating the insurrection, they confirmed last night.

The DUP confirmed last night that it is to boycott an Easter Rising dinner with the Republic of Ireland’s president in Belfast – while the UUP have still to decide if they will follow suit.

The Sinn Fein Lord Mayor of Belfast Arder Carson is to host the civic dinner with Michael D Higgins as guest of honour on April 8 to mark the centenary of the Easter Rising.

With Belfast City Hall as the venue, it is understand that councillors and MLAs have been invited.

However, the DUP has made it clear it will not attend.

DUP councillor Christopher Stalford said: “The Easter rebellion was a virtual non-event in Belfast so why it is felt necessary to go to the considerable expense of a civic dinner to commemorate it is beyond me.

“For our part, no DUP councillor will be attending an event which celebrates an insurrection that was carried out by terrorists who had practically no support for their actions at a time when men from all over Ireland, unionist and nationalist, were fighting and dying alongside each other in the bloody mud of France.

“The events of that failed rebellion should be studied, not celebrated. The legacy of 1916 is a poisonous one as it served to enshrine the notion that armed republican groups, no matter how small or deranged, can kill and maim for Ireland.”

UUP councillor Chris McGimpsey said his party would make a collective decision on whether to attend.

“We haven’t decided yet whether we will go,” he said. “The invitations only landed in our mailboxes on Friday night.

“If we decided not to go, it would not be personal to Michael D Higgins, whom I have always admired.”

Mr McGimpsey said he would be chairing an event at Corrymeela on June 4 at which Mr Higgins is guest speaker.

He said party members at Belfast City Council will make a collective decision on the matter, which will be based in part on whether the dinner is a celebration, commemoration or recognition of 1916, he said.

A DUP spokesman said party leader Arlene Foster “has already said she won’t be attending any Easter rebellion commemorations” – a position which will apply to all party representatives, he said.

He accepted that she attended a Church of Ireland lecture in Dublin on 1916 but said this “looked at the entirety of 1916”.

Mrs Foster said recently: “For those of us living in Northern Ireland, the Easter Rising was used in a very negative way to justify a campaign of terrorism against fellow Irish people, frankly.”

Belfast DUP councillor William Humphrey told the News Letter last night that the rising had no support in Belfast and was “a violent attack on democracy and the British state when our nation was at war”. For those reasons, he did not think the dinner was appropriate – nor that ratepayers should be funding it.

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