The President’s decision not to attend an event celebrating the centenary of Northern Ireland is a ‘snub’ to Queen Elizabeth, according to the DUP.
The church service in County Armagh is one of the focal points of the programme of events to mark 100 years since Ireland was partitioned and Northern Ireland established.
A spokesperson for President Higgins has said he is “not in a position to attend” the service, which Britain’s Queen Elizabeth has also been invited to.
President Higgins is currently on a four-day visit to Rome and has so far declined to comment on the matter any further.
On The Hard Shoulder this evening, DUP MP Gregory Campbell said unionists are “bewildered” at the situation and want a clear reason for his decision.
Also on the show, Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín said there isn’t a president in the world that would attend an event celebrating the partition of his own country.
Kieran Cuddihy began by asking Mr Campbell how unionists in the North would feel if turns out he made the decision off his own bat.
“If that is the case, it is deeply regrettable because to attend an event like this would merely be him taking part in an event to mark 100 years of Northern Ireland,” he said.
“It would be, I would have thought, a duty incumbent upon the head of State in the Irish Republic to do that just as I would have said the same had the roles been reverse.
“It is a snub to her majesty the Queen given what she has done in terms of reaching out to people in the Republic and it would be very, deeply unfortunate if he wasn’t to reciprocate.”
He said the event is solely to mark 100 years of Northern Ireland and said it would be “very unfortunate” if President Higgins does not attend and fails to give a “legitimate reason” for his decision.
He said attending the event would not suggest President Higgins was showing approval for partition.
“People go to events and commemorations all the time,” he said. “They don’t necessarily have to say they approve of everything that was done in the establishing of either the country, the state, the event or the group they are commemorating.
“This is simply an acknowledgement of the fact the Northern Ireland is commemorating 100 years since it was founded. It shouldn’t be beyond the president of a nation-state to acknowledge that. It would be exceptionally poor form if that is the case.”
Deputy Tóibín put forward a very different view – insisting President Higgins has “no choice” but to refuse the invitation.
“There isn’t a president in the world that would attend an event that commemorates or celebrates or marks the partition of his or her country,” he said.
“It just wouldn’t happen anywhere and I think it is a quirk of the Irish nation that we actually have these conversations – it is just so illogical.
“The partition of Ireland was a disaster. Partition wasn’t a victimless action. It set in train decades of second-class citizenship for Catholics and nationalists in the North. It institutionalised discrimination during that time. It sundered thousands of townlands and communities across the northern half of this country and it significantly arrested the social and economic development of Ireland for years and years and years.”
He said for a president to attend an event that “gives validity or suggests that partition was a positive action” wouldn’t happen anywhere else and shouldn’t happen here.
“This inter-denominational service is part of a programme of events that includes a reception at Hillsborough Castle, cultural centenary concerts and a postmark to celebrate ‘our story and the making of Northern Ireland,’” he said.
“Partition has been one of the biggest disasters that has affected this country. Outside of the famine, I can’t think of anything that has had a more detrimental effect on Ireland and while some people on this island obviously support partition, it doesn’t mean we have to have a uniform view on it.
“We have to accept these differences but for the President of this country to attend, validate and even commemorate such an event would do an injustice to all of the wrongs that have been done under the system of partition in Ireland north and south.”
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