A spontaneous rendition of the National Anthem was “regrettable” as nationalists in attendance at a Stormont service on Wednesday felt “ambushed,” Mike Nesbitt has said.
The Ulster Unionist leader was commenting following the annual Act of Remembrance at Parliament Buildings which was attended by Martin McGuinness and other senior Sinn Fein figures.
Although the National Anthem was not included on the order of service, several unionists in attendance began singing God Save The Queen as soon as it concluded – to the obvious embarrassment of the nationalist representatives who were still on their feet.
Mr Nesbitt could be heard on television footage immediately afterwards apologising to some of the Sinn Fein delegation.
In a statement released after the service he said: “I think we should all welcome the ever more inclusive nature of Stormont’s Armistice Day service, but I am unclear why the National Anthem was dropped from the order of service.
“It should be there and the Ulster Unionist Party will be meeting Assembly authorities tomorrow to discuss why it was not.”
Mr Nesbitt added: “Today was the worst outcome for both unionists and nationalists.
“I want the National Anthem back on the order of service for everyone to see.”
However, DUP MLA Peter Weir said the annual service “usually closes with the singing of the National Anthem”.
He said: “Those of us who participated in the spontaneous singing of the National Anthem this year did because it is normal for the anthem to be sung at such events.
“It was not a stunt or a politically motivated gesture, but simply a normal part of such events anywhere in the United Kingdom.”
TUV press officer Sammy Morrison, who is understood to have initiated the singing, said “nobody knew” that the anthem had been dropped from the service until the orders of service were distributed at 10.45am.
He said: “I personally was offended by that. I wear my poppy to remember the Enniskillen bombing because in that bombing two of my relatives had to be dug out of the rubble. One of them was very badly injured.
“I take exception to memorial services being changed to accommodate the people who were responsibility for the Enniskillen bombing.”
Sinn Féin’s Carál Ní Chuilín was angered by what she called a “childish stunt” which “flew in the face of the spirit of the occasion”.
She said it was disappointing that some chose to cause embarrassment, and added: “The event itself, led by Assembly speaker Mitchel McLaughlin, was conducted in a spirit of generosity and was respectful, inclusive and received wide support from right across the political spectrum.”