Top Sinn Féin figures lead effusive tributes to Prince Philip, praising his public service and support for the Queen
Senior Sinn Fein figures have led effusive tributes to the Duke of Edinburgh, praising his public service, work to help the disadvantaged and exemplary support for the Queen.
With perfect decorum and rare unanimity, the Assembly today came together for one item – to pay tribute to the Queen’s late husband – and then adjourned for the rest of the day as a mark of respect.
With the Union Flag flying at half mast outside Parliament Buildings, Mr Maskey used some words of Irish in a four-minute speech of warm appreciation for a man whose uncle, Lord Mountbatten, was murdered by the IRA.
Wearing a black tie, the West Belfast MLA said it was “impossible to do justice to such a long and full life within a few short minutes” and that “Prince Philip’s lifetime of public duty had already begun before we were even born. That is a record of public service to which few will ever be able to compare”.
Yesterday’s Assembly tributes came as Prince William and Prince Harry issued separate statements in tribute to their grandfather.
Prince William described him as “an extraordinary man and part of an extraordinary generation”.
The Duke of Cambridge said that he and his wife would “continue to do what he would have wanted and will support the Queen in the years ahead”.
Prince Harry described his grandfather as “a man of service, honour and great humour” and the “legend of banter”.
In the Assembly, Mr Maskey praised the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme and said that its ability “to reach disadvantaged young people is particularly to be admired. Of course, that is typical of the very significant role in recent years played by senior members of the Royal Family in reconciliation efforts in our society and these islands, and it is right that we record our appreciation for that today”.
Mr Maskey added: “It is true that, throughout the 99 years of his life, we have all been on such a journey of change and tumult, challenge and opportunity, domestically, in these islands and globally.”
Dressed in black, the Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister, Michelle O’Neill, similarly extended her sympathy to the Royal Family.
She told the chamber: “I acknowledge that the Queen, Prince Philip and their family were directly impacted by the conflict and, regrettably, endured sorrow and pain as a result of their personal loss and bereavement.
“Each of us knows that the tragedies of the past have left a deep and profoundly regrettable legacy of suffering for so many families, which we are still trying to confront and address.
“Yet, having endured such personal loss, the Royal Family set about working towards advancing peace and reconciliation.”
There were less surprising warm tributes from elsewhere in the chamber.
First Minister Arlene Foster said: “In this era, too many too readily pour scorn over the traditional values that he exemplified.
“When you see what his values achieved throughout his life, you see how traditional values can shape a better world. He showed, of course, that you can believe in the best of tradition and in the inevitability of change at the same time.
“He redefined the role of a royal, working with hundreds of different causes and organisations, with younger people, service and driving British innovation at the centre of his efforts.
“His work with the World Wildlife Fund was literally decades ahead of its time, and over two million young people have gained a Duke of Edinburgh’s Award.”
SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon told MLAs: “I begin by expressing my sincere condolences and those of our party to Queen Elizabeth and her family ... my thoughts are particularly with the Queen, who has lost her husband of 73 years. To wake up without your steadfast companion of that length of time must be heartbreaking and, for many of us, is unimaginable.”
She went on: “I also send my sincere condolences to people in communities across Northern Ireland who feel a special connection and affinity with Prince Philip and the Royal Family. This is a sorrowful time, and our thoughts are with you.”
She added: “It is fair and important to say that the uncharitable and mean-spirited online commentary by some about Prince Philip in particular diminishes us all.”
Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken said that “the grief and mourning that she and the rest of the Royal Family feel are echoed by many not just across our nation but across the Commonwealth and beyond”.
Addressing nationalist representatives, he went on: “While I feel that sense of loss and, indeed, the sense of the passing of an era, I thank, in particular, the deputy first minister and members of the SDLP for their recognition of that loss.
“May I state how welcome your remarks were? Whilst we may disagree on much, those were welcome sentiments. I appreciate your sympathy and reaching out to those of us who hold the Union and the monarchy dear. Thank you.”
Alliance leader Naomi Long said that the duke had lived “a remarkable life” and was someone who “demonstrated in practice what it means to be a supportive husband to a powerful woman”.
Green MLA Rachel Woods said she had been unaware that Prince Philip had described himself as a refugee and said: “It got me thinking about the way that Prince Philip was. Perhaps his passing should be a reminder to challenge the negative perceptions that we have of people.”
TUV leader Jim Allister said: “There will be difficult, tough days for the Queen in all of that, particularly for someone who is herself of advanced years. I pray that she finds the strength to carry on in the remarkable era that has been her rule over us.”
Referring to the “wicked” murder of Lord Mountbatten by the IRA, he added: “Today would have been a good day for the republican movement to unequivocally say, ‘Sorry’, but, of course, the deputy first minister does not do ‘sorry’.”
Independent unionist Claire Sugden thanked the speaker for his tribute and recalled warmly how Prince Philip had jovially asked her in 2014, when she was 27, if she thought her life experience qualified her to be an MLA. She added: “I stood there with my mouth open, so I suppose that, in some ways, he was right.”
The only party not to pay any tribute was People Before Profit.
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