President Michael D. Higgins declined an invitation to attend a church service with Queen Elizabeth marking the centenary of Northern Ireland and the partition of the island.
Mass is being organized in the coming weeks in Armagh by leaders of the major Christian churches, who have expected Mr. Higgins to participate as head of state.
“The president is not in a position to attend the ceremony you mentioned, and the organizers have been informed of this,” a spokesman for Mr Higgins said in response to a question from The Irish Times.
With preparations at a delicate stage, his decision disappointed the organizers. They hoped that both political traditions in Ireland would be represented at a very high level.
Transfer of “good wishes”
Higgins’ spokesman did not say why he was not attending. “The President has already conveyed through his office his best wishes to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II,” the spokesperson said.
“The President has welcomed, and continues to welcome any opportunities to meet Her Majesty and members of her family.”
The Catholic Archbishop will be attended by Archbishop Eamonn Martin, as well as Archbishop of the Church of Ireland Archbishop John McDowell and other church leaders.
Archbishop Martin’s spokesman did not comment on Mr. Higgins: “The important thing is that this service continues. It is an initiative of the major Christian denominations on this island, and it is supported by prayer, peace and reconciliation.”
Reconciliation and peace
In an interview with the Irish Catholic newspaper in December, Archbishop Martin criticized politicians for their refusal to get involved in the events marking the creation of the Northern State.
“I would like to see the centenary of 2021 as an opportunity for greater mutual understanding, and for opportunities to build more reconciliation and peace,” said the then archbishop.
“I’m somewhat disappointed that many of our national and Republican political leaders have dismissed the 2021 Centennial altogether, because I think it’s really important to take it as a moment to reflect on where we’ve come from.”
The Irish Church declined to comment. The government also declined to comment. Asked if a government representative would attend, a source said that any invitation would be considered.
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