Sinn Féin at Hillsborough as Charles proclaimed King

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Sinn Fein’s participation in events to mark the death of Queen Elizabeth and the accession to the throne of Charles has seen it continue to build an ever closer relationship with the English royal family.

Over the past week, Ireland has witnessed an outpouring of sorrow for an English figurehead who had become a familiar part of Irish life over seven decades.

But a week of sycophantic media coverage and undiluted state royalism antagonised republicans and fuelled anti-monarchist protests here.

Most provocatively, Charles visited Belfast under very heavy security for his proclamation as the new monarch in every British jurisdiction, including in Ireland.

Supporters were specially screened and bussed into Hillsborough Castle in County Down to witness the ceremonial proclamation of Charles as the new King. The announcement included passages that obliged him to uphold the Protestant religion and claimed the “loyalty of the peoples whose sovereign I have been called upon to be”.

Despite the unionist and colonial nature of the events, Charles was greeted warmly at Hillsborough by Sinn Fein’s First Minister-designate, Michelle O’Neill, and by the Sinn Féin Speaker of the Assembly, Alex Maskey, although the party stayed away from the official proclamation address.

Alex Maskey delivered the official message of condolence from the Six Counties to the new British King, while Sinn Féin also attended a memorial service at St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast reflecting on the life of the late Queen.

At Hillsborough, in an exchange which gained media attention to the fury of unionists, Charles congratulated Sinn Féin leader Michelle O’Neill on being the largest party, while also thanking her for her praise of his mother.

Michelle O’Neill said in a statement on Thursday that she was personally grateful for “Queen Elizabeth’s significant contribution and determined efforts to advancing peace and reconciliation between our two islands.

“Throughout the peace process she led by example in building relationships with those of us who are Irish, and who share a different political allegiance and aspirations to herself and her government.”

Republican Sinn Féin condemned the expressions of sympathy for a monarch who controlled a British army occupation in Ireland, “the same troops who have, still do and always will torture Irish citizens, the same troops who have massacred thousands of Irish men, women and children.”

Saoradh said it had “absolute disgust” for Sinn Fein’s messages of condolence and said Elizabeth had “decorated those who murdered Irish men and women on their own streets.”

“That the incumbent king of England was previously the colonel in chief of the hated Paratroop Regiment makes it even harder to swallow,” they added.

The Irish Republican Socialist Party said it would “not be shedding tears nor expressing sympathy” over the death of Queen Elizabeth.

“Instead our thoughts are with the victims of British Imperialism, both at home and abroad who have died at the hands of the British Army and its proxies. We remember that Queen Elizabeth acted as their commander and chief, and is ultimately responsible for their crimes.”

And a giant slogan unveiled by Gael Force activists on Black Mountain overlooking Belfast also expressed the republican view, emulating the banner which once was erected outside the headquarters of the Irish Citizen Army, Liberty Hall, in Dublin, during the First World War, which read: “We Serve Neither King Nor Kaiser But Ireland.”

But, in common with many other states, the 26 Counties accorded the late English queen a fulsome tribute, lowering the Irish national flag at the GPO, the former headquarters of the 1916 rebellion against British rule.

The Irish President Michael D Higgins joined Sinn Féin and other Irish political leaders in paying particular tribute to those actions of the queen which were seen to play a role in the peace process.

And there was strong support for Sinn Fein’s stance in the mainstream media, with Emma de Souza claiming that it showed that Sinn Féin is “a forward-looking progressive party”.

Suzanne Breen, the Belfast Telegraph columnist described it as “a flawless show of respect that will reap rewards.”

Irish-American publisher Niall O’Dowd also praised Sinn Féin who he said “didn’t put a foot wrong”.

“They made the smart call that anything other than a warm welcome for King Charles would diminish their own credibility as the leaders in waiting in Ireland, north and south,” he wrote.

“Sinn Féin proved they have come a long way from a small party of protest to the one which spoke for all Northern Ireland”.

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