Controversy has erupted in recent days when it emerged that President Michael D Higgins had declined an invitation to a church service commemorating Northern Ireland’s centenary.
Resident Higgins said he declined the invitation because of the title of the event, which included the centenary marking of the “Partition of Ireland”. President Higgins said it was not a politically neutral title and therefore decided not to attend.
There followed a whirlwind of opinions. Independent.ie has compiled a list of who said what and why, in a story that has been in the headlines the past few days:
President Michael D Higgins
“They continue to designate me as the President of the Republic of Ireland – I am the President of Ireland,” President Higgins said. Initially, it was believed to be a reference to the invitation to the event.
Mr. Higgins later clarified that was not the case. “I may be responsible for causing a little confusion and it is that the organizers writing to my office have always called me the President of Ireland.
“The reference to me as President of the Republic of Ireland is really a remark from the leadership of the DUP.”
On the invitation to the event and its title, President Higgins said: “What was once an invitation to a church service, or a religious event, has in fact become a political statement.
He also said: “If this event is titled as it is and structured as it is, it would present difficulties and that is the start.”
Former Taoiseach John Bruton
Mr. Bruton initially suggested that the president may not have fulfilled his constitutional obligations in consulting the government about the event.
“If he had fulfilled his obligation under the Constitution, which is to follow the advice of the Irish government on this matter, they would have advised him to leave,” Mr Bruton said.
President Michael D Higgins
President Higgins, on a papal visit to Rome, hit back at the comments, saying they were “extraordinary” and suggesting that Mr. Bruton should withdraw them.
“With the greatest respect for the former Prime Minister, John Bruton is wrong in his interpretation of the constitution.
“I welcome all suggestions, but I must oppose, quite frankly, those who suggested that I had broken the constitution.
“I find this to be a very extraordinary comment from the former Prime Minister and member of the Council of State who has always been treated with courtesy by me.
“And I’m sure Mr. Bruton would like to withdraw his comments.
“It’s up to him to decide if he wants to withdraw the remarks he made about the president, practically suggesting that the president behaved badly,” President Higgins said.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney
As it turned out, President Higgins’ office had contacted the Foreign Office about the event, but they did not give him any “clear advice” on his participation.
Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said in this regard: “We have not given any clear advice to the President regarding this particular event. I think it is clear from the statements the Speaker has made on this matter that he made his own decision. He is the head of state, he has the right to make his own decisions about his own agenda and the events he attends. I think he answered this himself.
“The Irish government has not received an invitation to the event … but if we do receive an invitation, of course we will give it serious thought,” Mr Coveney said.
Former Taoiseach John Bruton
Mr. Bruton then sent a statement to Driving time on RTÉ on Friday evening to clarify that his comments on the president had been made “before a subsequent statement by the Minister of Foreign Affairs that the government had had an opportunity to give advice but had not done so”.
Mr Bruton said he was “happy that is the case and that the matter is now clarified”.
He went on to say, “I still think the President should be in Armagh next month” and that he sees “no problem with the title of the proposed service” which he said refers to “simple realities. , namely the partition and creation of Northern Ireland “.
Taoiseach Michel Martin
Almost lost in the chaos was the voice of current Taoiseach Micheál Martin, who said he understood the president’s position not to attend the event.
“I respect the president’s decision and I understand where the president is coming from,” Martin said.
“I think he articulated it and gave his reasons. I will also say that we know the president really spent a lot of time on the commemoration and took it very seriously. He has a commitment. long-standing support for peace and reconciliation on the island. “
Group of church leaders
The organizers of the event itself, who also invited Queen Elizabeth, said the overarching theme of the service was “hope.”
“This will be a Christian worship service hosted, organized and led by the leaders of the Church of Ireland, the Roman Catholic, Presbyterian and Methodist churches and the Irish Council of Churches,” the letter to the president read.
He continued: “All of these churches span the two jurisdictions of the island of Ireland. The service will be the occasion for an honest reflection on the last hundred years, with the observation of failures and wounds but also with a clear affirmation of our common commitment to build a future marked by peace, reconciliation and a commitment to the common good.
“The dominant theme will be that of Hope.”
Mary lou mcdonald
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald defended the president’s decision not to attend.
“The partition of Ireland was a disaster for our people and our country,” she said.
“The partition of Ireland costs us to this day, holds us back, divides us. Uachtarán na hÉireann has made it clear his decision not to attend a commemorative event.
“His decision is the right one.”
DUP chief Jeffrey Donaldson told Radio Ulster he hoped President Higgins would rethink his decision.
“It is not conducive to the kind of respectful relationship we want to see for the head of state in our neighboring jurisdiction not to attend a service of this nature,” he said.
He added that through the Queen’s visit to Ireland in 2011, she “set a clear example of how to make reconciliation”.
“I think it is a step backwards and brings us back when the President of the Republic of Ireland cannot attend a service of this nature which is called by churches,” Mr Donaldson said.
“I think the churches are setting the example here that sets the tone for this service… it is unfortunate that President Higgins cannot attend.”
DUP Assembly member Peter Weir wrote to the president asking if he joined Sinn Féin and the SDLP in “boycotting” such events, a move he said “speaks volumes” about “Ireland’s commitment to reconciliation and progress”.
Mr Higgins said his office would respond to Mr Weir and denied that he was “snubbing” anyone or “boycotting” the event.