A request by the new King of England to his claimed subjects to collectively pledge their allegiance has raised the temperature of a debate over Sinn Féin’s vice-president Michelle O’Neill attendance at King Charles’s Coronation in London.
Ms O’Neill is set to represent Sinn Féin at Westminster Abbey on Saturday, insisting that it demonstrates her commitment to building good relations with unionists and advancing peace and reconciliation. She has been in line to become First Minister since Assembly elections last May, but has been blocked from doing so by a DUP veto.
It emerged in recent days that those in attendance at the Coronation are being asked to lead the public in taking an oath of allegiace to the King. The ‘Homage of the People’ is an awkward new addition to the ceremony that will see British people and those in “overseas realms” invited to swear an oath of allegiance to King Charles.
Sinn Féin denied on Sunday that Ms O’Neill would be participating. “She clearly holds a substantially different, but equally legitimate allegiance as an Irish citizen to those who are British,” the party said.
The Archbishop of Canterbury is to call upon “all persons of goodwill in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and of the other realms and territories, to make their homage, in heart and voice, to their undoubted King, defender of all”.
The order of service will read: “All who so desire, in the abbey, and elsewhere, say together:
“All: I swear that I will pay true allegiance to Your Majesty, and to your heirs and successors according to law. So help me God.”
It will be followed by the playing of a fanfare. The Archbishop will then proclaim “God Save The King”, with all asked to respond: “God Save King Charles. Long live King Charles. May the King live for ever.”
British officials stressed that the “Homage of the People” is an invitation “rather than an expectation or request”.
It is similar to the oath of allegiance taken by SDLP MPs and is a requirement for all MPs to take their seats at Westminster.
A recent poll has shown that a majority of voters in the North reject the monarchy, challenging Ms O’Neill’s promises to be a “First Minister for all”. The event also falls a day after the anniversary of the death of IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands, a poignant date on the republican calendar.
Signs have been erected in nationalist areas recalling the words of Irish rebel James Connolly in response to World War One: ‘We Serve Neither King Nor Kaiser, But Ireland’, with protests planned by republican and socialist groups in a number of locations.
Aontú leader Peadar Toibin warned against the participation at Westminster Abbey of Michelle O’Neill and the speaker of the collapsed Assembly, Sinn Féin’s Alex Maskey.
“What Sinn Féin is doing here is not a million miles away from taking the oath of allegiance [and] taking seats in Westminster,” he said.
“Officially Sinn Féin will be attending a coronation of the King of Great Britain and the North of Ireland. In attending it confirms it and accepts it; unless Michelle’s going to be crossing her toes and her fingers during the event.”
Britain is the only monarchy in Europe to still conduct a religious coronation and the total cost of the extravaganza is being put at a quarter of a billion pounds.
The coronation will see Charles make several overtly sectarian vows, including to be a faithful Protestant; to uphold the rights and privileges of the Church of England; and to uphold the Presbyterian church in Scotland.
In a further insult to Scottish nationalists, he will be crowned on a throne designed so that Scotland’s stone of destiny, used since ancient times for the inauguration of its kings, is placed within.
It was also announced that Charles is to recite a hymn with words in the “traditional languages of the nations of the United Kingdom”, including four lines of archaic Irish.
Former republican prisoner John Crawley said Sinn Féin’s inclusion would show that the party is “house-trained” and that pacification and normalisation had been achieved.
“Sinn Féin will dutifully attend while the British state confirms with all the pomp and ceremony it can muster that it is, at heart, a sectarian state where no Catholic can lawfully be crowned sovereign,” he said.
“Do Sinn Féin forget, or do they simply not care, that England forcibly planted the malignancy of sectarian apartheid into our country?
“The Shinners will sit respectfully and listen while King Charles mumbles a few words in the Irish language, signifying that a part of Ireland remains one of the four nations of the United Kingdom.
“What became of the Republican project to break the connection with England and assert the independence of our country? To unite the whole people of Ireland, to abolish the memory of past dissensions, and to substitute the common name of Irishman in place of the denominations of Protestant, Catholic, and Dissenter?”
But speaking last week, Ms O’Neill said her eyes were “very much focused on the future”.
“I’m determined to look at the next 10 years and 20 years and what that means for our island, the people who share this island, and the relationships between our two islands,” she said.
“I think reconciliation is still something that we all need to be pushing ourselves on and making sure that we do everything that we can to reconcile all the people across these two islands.”