Irish President Denies Absence from Church Service is ‘Snub to Queen’

The Irish president has defended his decision to decline an invitation to a church service marking Northern Ireland’s centenary that would be attended by Queen Elizabeth II.

President Michael D Higgins said the title of the event, which states the service, would mark the centenaries of the partition of Ireland and the formation of Northern Ireland.

This was being politicised and, as such, it would be inappropriate for him to attend.

Higgins, who was currently on a visit to Rome, said he would not be revisiting his decision to stay away from the service in Armagh next month.

“We are past the point now and I think it is unfortunate,’’ he told the Irish Times.

The president denied he is snubbing the queen: “There is no question of any snub intended to anybody.

“I am not snubbing anyone and I am not part of anyone’s boycott of any other events in Northern
Ireland,’’ he said.

“I wish their service well, but they should understand that I have the right to exercise a discretion as to what I think is appropriate for my attendance.’’

Higgins said his issue was with the nature of the service.

“What (had started out as) an invitation to a religious service is in fact becoming a political statement,’’ he said.

“I was also referred to as the President of the Republic of Ireland. I am the President of Ireland.’’

Unionists have questioned Higgins’ decision not to attend, with DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson asking whether it is politically motivated as a consequence of advice from the Irish government.

The government in Dublin has denied it influenced the president’s move.

Higgins challenged the DUP criticism: “It’s a bit much, to be frank with you. I have gone up to Northern Ireland to take part in events.

“There has not been a great deal of traffic down from the DUP people who are criticising me now,” he said.

Higgins, who was due to meet with the pope on Friday, said that, on the day of the service, he had already agreed to host the Statistical and Social Inquiry Association of Ireland at his official residence at Aras an Uachtarain in Dublin.

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