Michael D Higgins ‘caught out by a contradiction’ over which centenaries he wants to mark

A DUP figure has expressed wonderment about Michael D Higgins’ upcoming attendance at a ceremony marking the founding of the 26-country Irish state, given his refusal to attend one marking the creation of Northern Ireland.

Friday, 14th January 2022, 9:52 am
Updated Friday, 14th January 2022, 10:24 am
Soldiers leaving Dublin Castle after the handover to Michael Collins' government, 1922

Alderman Brian Kingston, a former mayor of Belfast, made the remarks ahead of a big programme of events commemorating the handover of Dublin Castle to Michael Collins on December 16, 1922.

The castle was the seat of British power in Ireland, and its handover is seen as marking the beginning of self-government for the 26 counties.

The Irish government calls it “one of the most significant in modern Irish history”.

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This Sunday, a commemoration will take place in the Upper Castle Yard, broadcast on RTE1 from 1.35pm to 2.40pm.

In addition a historical conference is running today and tomorrow, commemorative stamps have been issued, and archival records describing the “surrender of Dublin Castle” have gone on display for the first time in 100 years.

Michael D Higgins will be present at the Sunday event, alongside other VIPs.

He had irked unionists last October when he declined an invitation to attend an event at Armagh Anglican Cathedral called “A Service of Reflection and Hope, to mark the Centenary of the partition of Ireland and the formation of Northern Ireland’, saying this was not a politically “neutral” name for the event.

It was just one of what unionists have perceived as snubs during 2021, with republicans vetoing a centenary memorial stone at Stormont, a rose bush, and – in councillor Kingston’s Belfast – opposing the lighting up of City Hall to mark NI’s foundation.

Alderman Kingston said there is an “intolerance” among nationalists towards marking NI’s existence.

“Obviously they are entitled to have whatever event they wish in Dublin,” he said.

“But if this is effectively marking the foundation of the Irish Free State as it then was, it does show the nonsense of Michael D Higgins not attending the service held in Armagh.

“It is a contradiction... effectively this is part of the same historic development.”

Irish foreign minister Leo Varadkar this week praised the “revolutionary generation” of 1922, adding that the nation now “enjoys peace and prosperity and has among the highest living standards in the world; we are at the heart of the EU and sit on the UN Security Council – unimaginable a century ago”.

When Michael Collins arrived at the castle to take control on behalf of the provisional Irish government, the commander of the British forces complained he was seven minutes late.

Collins’ reply (as recorded in Oxford Essential Quotations and elsewhere) was: “We’ve been waiting 700 years. You can keep the seven minutes.”

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