Fine Gael’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney (left) and Fianna Fáil’s Chief Whip Jack Chambers (right) are to represent the Dublin government in an event to mark the centenary of the partition of Ireland and the creation of a unionist-dominated statelet in the North.
The decision represents a clear snub to Michael D Higgins, who had previously rejected the invitation. In an official statement on Thursday night, the coalition government claimed to have “full support and understanding” for the President’s decision, but had overruled it.
Following a failed effort by prominent figures to force the President to submit to the government’s wishes, it was ironic that the government statement argued it was “clearly distinct” from the President.
Mr Higgins had said the service marking partition and the creation of a border through Ireland, to be attended by England’s Queen Elizabeth, “wasn’t a neutral statement politically”. His stance was overwhelmingly supported by the Irish people.
“No member of the Irish government should participate in the commemoration of partition - a catastrophic event for Ireland,” tweeted Mary Lou McDonald on Thursday. “The decision to attend is wrong. Very wrong.”
Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty said this week President Higgins was “absolutely right” in deciding not to attend the latest in the series of ‘NI100’ (Northern Ireland 100) celebrations.
“There are many ways in which we can forward the issues of reconciliation across the island of Ireland. Sinn Féin have been party to them including different events including meeting Queen Elizabeth in the past,” Mr Doherty said.
“But this isn’t about reconciliation. This is about commemorating partition, an act that had a devastating impact on our country.”
However, Sinn Féin’s opposition marks a change in approach for the party after the party’s national chairperson Declan Kearney himself took part in a partition celebration just three weeks ago. That event, to mark the first ‘Northern Ireland’ parliament, was attended by Coveney, the British government and the DUP.
While unionists in Fine Gael expressed support for the latest event, there are tensions in Fianna Fáil over their party’s involvement. Clare TD Cathal Crowe said it was his personal opinion that the government should have “no hand, act or part” in the service. The event had “celebratory undertones” and that something that “celebrates partition is never positive in my book”.
Aontú was unequivocal in its opposition. Party leader Peadar Tóibín said that “we need to foster positive healthy relationships with our neighbours but there is nothing healthy in commemorating something that has been so destructive to the Irish people”.
Meanwhile, posters have appeared cross Belfast expressing opposition to the planned royal visit. The 32 County Sovereignty Committee said the presence of the British queen on October 21st would be “unwelcome”.
“The only time an English head of state will be welcome in Ireland is when they come here to announce England’s withdrawal from the affairs of this land and to apologise to the people of Ireland for not only the recent decades of murder, rape, torture and collusion, but the hundreds of years of atrocities inflicted on the Irish people, from the plantations of the 16th century to the mass genocide of the 19th century, commonly referred to as the famine,” they said.
“100 years ago George the 5th, king of England, came to Ireland to celebrate the partitioning of our country. On October 21st this year, Elizabeth Windsor, queen of England and commander in chief of British armed forces will come here to celebrate 100 years of that brutal Partition. So too will elected representatives of the puppet governments Stormont and Leinster house, as well as church leaders.
“The 32 County Sovereignty Movement see this event as an opportunity for all of us who believe in the Republic to send a unified message loud and clear that the British queen along with her government, her military, her shadowy agents in MI5 and the other apparatus involved in the ongoing occupation, is not welcome here in Ireland.”