The former leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, Mike Nesbitt MLA, has expressed surprise and regret at the explanation given by Irish President Michael D Higgins for his decision to decline the invitation to the forthcoming church service in Armagh that will be attended by Her Majesty the Queen.
Mike Nesbitt said:
“Up to this point, I have admired Michael D Higgins’ commitment to outreach and reconciliation. My personal exchanges with him have been productive and at times inspiring, but this decision hits reverse gear hard.
“If there was a problem with language then there is no reason why the Presidential support staff could not have opened a quiet back channel to resolve all issues of language.
“Then I hear former Taoiseach John Bruton remind us the President of Ireland has a duty, written into their constitution, to consult the Government of Ireland on matters such as attending this church service, but he appears to have gone on a solo run.
“I take no pleasure in describing his decision as a massive own goal, because it has become about much more than a single event in Armagh, it has the potential to infect good relations and reconciliation across this entire island and beyond.
“My sympathies are with the service organisers. A church service organised by the four main churches, including the two all-Ireland Primates and the respective Heads of State would have been an entirely appropriate, well-balanced occasion and consistent with my party’s vision of a Union of People. Now there will be an inevitable imbalance, not of the organisers’ making.”