Higgins in spotlight over political neutrality ahead of major Bloody Sunday event following ‘sectarian NI state’ comments from organisers

The attendance of Irish President Michael D Higgins at an upcoming Bloody Sunday event has come under the spotlight, following political comments made by the organisers.

By Adam Kula
Tuesday, 18th January 2022, 8:39 pm
Updated Tuesday, 18th January 2022, 11:28 pm
Clockwise: Michael D Higgins, Jeremy Corbyn, Adrian Dunbar (and part of the brochure)
Clockwise: Michael D Higgins, Jeremy Corbyn, Adrian Dunbar (and part of the brochure)

The promotional brochure setting out the details of the 50th anniversary commemorations of the 1972 massacre begins with a string of remarks denouncing the creation of Northern Ireland and declaring it “nothing to celebrate”.

President Higgins refused to get involved in a cross-community church service marking the Northern Ireland centenary four months ago in Armagh, because he claimed it was not politically “neutral”.

DUP MLA for Armagh William Irwin tonight told the News Letter that “whilst he’s entitled to attend a service for Bloody Sunday, of course,” the Irish head of state should be mindful of “taking his own advice” when it comes to insisting upon neutrality.

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Sunday January 30 marks exactly half a century since the Parachute Regiment opened fire on civilian marchers in Londonderry, leaving 14 dead (13 at the time, one later on). No-one has ever been successfully prosecuted.

The Bloody Sunday Trust has organised a list of events around the anniversary, and its brochure is titled ‘One World One Struggle’.

It begins by stating the following: “There are many reasons why we have nothing to celebrate about the foundation of the state of Northern Ireland in 1921. Bloody Sunday will however, always feature near the top.

“The state was founded on the basis of a temporary sectarian headcount, its supremacist founders making it clear that nationalists and Catholics would never be welcome, and only tolerated if they remained subservient.

“Its laws and special powers were draconian. We have seen similar regimes and political movements come, go and remain in South Africa, Palestine, South America and the US in recent times.”

Mr Higgins had objected to the Armagh service last year largely on the basis that the title of the event – ‘A Service of Reflection and Hope to mark the Centenary of the partition of Ireland and the formation of Northern Ireland’ – was too political.

According to the Bloody Sunday Trust, he is set to deliver a “specially recorded” message, relayed via a big screen, as part of a mass gathering at The Guildhall at 4pm on the anniversary.

The event will be hosted by ‘Line of Duty’ actor Adrian Dunbar, and on the day before that Jeremy Corbyn is due to give a guest lecture as part of a wider suite of events.

Mr Irwin said: “I think president Higgins is leaving himself very much open to criticism – and rightly so.

“[But] unionists will not be shocked or surprised after the snub to the centenary service in Armagh City.

“He should be taking his own advice on neutrality, there’s no doubt about that.”

And DUP Foyle MLA Gary Middleton noted the organisers’ “antagonistic and disparaging remarks about NI” adding: “Michael D Higgins has failed to provide leadership and has been an embarrassment to many Irish citizens for snubbing Her Majesty the Queen’s attendance in Armagh Cathedral to mark the centenary.

“When you compare how unionists were inclusive when marking other events in the decade of centenaries, he has been narrow, petty and lacking in maturity.”

OTHER EVENTS IN THE PROGRAMME:

Londonderry punk legends The Undertones will play at The Millennium Forum on Friday, January 28, from 7.30pm.

Admission will be £17.50, with tickets available from forum.

Mr Corbyn’s lecture will be at 3pm in The Guildhall on Saturday January 29, the day before the anniversary of the mass shooting.

Organisers say Mr Corbyn “has been a long-standing supporter of Bloody Sunday justice issues, including the campaign for a new inquiry to overturn the discredited Widgery Tribunal findings and the call for British soldiers to be made accountable for Troubles-related incidents”.

There are limited tickets available (see bloodysunday50.com for details) and the event will also be live streamed.

And on the morning of the anniversary, “a family walk of remembrance” will set out from Creggan Shops at 9.15am and make its way to the Bloody Sunday Monument in Rossville Street for the annual memorial service and wreath-laying at 11am. 

The press release says: “Members of the public are being asked to show their support for the families by lining the route in a responsible, socially distanced way.”

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