National Anthem row: McLaughlin defends Remembrance decision

Mitchel McLaughlin, who has been Assembly speaker since January, revealed during the week that he will not be seeking re-election as an MLA next year
Mitchel McLaughlin, who has been Assembly speaker since January, revealed during the week that he will not be seeking re-election as an MLA next year

Speaker of the Assembly Mitchel McLaughlin has defended his decision to exclude the National Anthem from a service of Remembrance at Stormont this week.

The event – which took place on Wednesday – caused controversy when TUV press officer Samuel Morrison started an impromptu rendition of God Save The Queen, with other unionists joining in.

The anthem had not been on the programme, although unionists said it was traditionally sung at the annual event.

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said the spontaneous rendition was “regrettable” as nationalists felt “ambushed”.

He could be heard on television footage afterwards apologising to the Sinn Fein delegation, which included Martin McGuinness.

Friday’s News Letter revealed that the decision to omit the National Anthem had been taken by Speaker of the House and Sinn Fein MLA Mr McLaughlin.

He defended his position in an open letter to MLAs.

He said: “I have spoken before about the nationalist amnesia in relation to the First World War and my regret that in that context I am only coming to wider remembrance late in life.”

An MLA since 1998, he said nobody had attempted to invite him to previous events at Stormont.

But over the last year he gained a lot from his engagement with the Royal British Legion, and had visited the Somme Heritage Centre and the battlefields of Flanders, he said.

Part of the role of Speaker is determining the arrangements for keynote events, he said, noting that in a letter of November 2, he informed MLAs that he would build on the Act of the Remembrance he led at Stormont last year which had “no music of any type”.

He added: “I recognise that for many people anthems are part of remembrance but I also know that for many others they are not. My door is open to engage with members and others to listen to any suggestions about how we can reach the same outcome of wide attendance and inclusive participation in the future without some of the tensions which emerged between parties after the event.”

The MLA also said:“I am serious about my commitment to represent all MLAs as Speaker but that often means making difficult judgments, no more so than in the area of commemoration and remembrance.”

Given upcoming centenaries of the Easter Rising and the Somme, MLAs should be in no doubt he will be “equally determined in ensuring that those events are inclusive and welcoming to all”.