Irish President Michael D Higgins defends decision to decline an invitation to a church service marking Northern Ireland’s centenary which will be attended by the Queen

Michael D Higgins said the title of the event, which states the service will mark the centenaries of the partition of Ireland and the formation of Northern Ireland, is being “politicised” and, as such, it would be inappropriate for him to attend.

Friday, 17th September 2021, 8:50 am
Updated Friday, 17th September 2021, 9:18 am
Mr Higgins, who is currently on a visit to Rome, said he will not be revisiting his decision to stay away from the service in Armagh next month.

Mr Higgins, who is currently on a visit to Rome, said he will not be revisiting his decision to stay away from the service in Armagh next month.

“We are past the point now and I think it is unfortunate,” he told the Irish Times.

The President denied he is snubbing the Queen.

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“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, ” he said.

“I wish their service well but they understand that I have the right to exercise a discretion as to what I think is appropriate for my attendance.”

Mr Higgins said his issue is with the title of the service.

“What (had started out as) an invitation to a religious service had in fact become a political statement,” he said. “I was also referred to as the President of the Republic of Ireland. I am the President of Ireland.”

Unionists have questioned Mr Higgins’ decision not to attend, with DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson asking whether it is politically motivated as a consequence of advice from the Irish Government. The Government in Dublin has denied it influenced the president’s move.

Mr Higgins challenged the DUP criticism.

“It’s a bit much, to be frank with you. I have gone up to Northern Ireland to take part in events,” he said.

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

Mr Higgins, who is due to meet the Pope on Friday, said that, on the day of the service, he has already agreed to host the Statistical and Social Inquiry Association of Ireland at his official residence at Aras an Uachtarain in Dublin.