President Michael D Higgins is facing further backlash over his decision not to attend a religious service to mark Northern Ireland’s centenary from former taoiseach John Bruton.
Mr Bruton said the President should attend the event next month and claimed he appeared to have not sought the advice of the Government as “he is obliged to do under the Constitution”, The Irish Times reports.
Last night, President Higgins broke his silence on the controversy, reiterating he would not attend on the grounds the event is political in nature and commemorates the “centenary of the partition of Ireland”. He also denied snubbing Britain’s queen.
On Friday morning, Mr Bruton told BBC Radio Ulster: “If he had fulfilled his obligation under the Constitution, which is to take the advice of the Irish Government on this matter, they would have advised him that he ought to go.
“He seems to have some concern that it is in some way taking note of the existence of Northern Ireland as a separate entity.
“But the reality is that the Irish people in the Good Friday Agreement, which they voted on and approved in a referendum, accept the present wishes of the people of Northern Ireland to maintain the union, until that is changed.
“So, in accepting an invitation to an event which is simply marking the existence of Northern Ireland for 100 years, the President would have been acting in accordance with the wishes of the Irish people.”
Mr Bruton claimed there was an unfortunate tradition in and around Northern Ireland of “going out of your way to take offence”, adding “some of the explanations the President gave for his declining the invitation involve going out of the way to take offence, in regards to the way he was addressed.”
Mr Bruton said he hoped the Government would send a representative to the event.
The attendance of the Taoiseach or Tánaiste would “remedy some of the harm that has been done”, but the “person who should be there, if the queen is there, is Uachtaráin na hÉireann Michael D Higgins”.
Meanwhile, DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson also criticised the President's explanation for not attending the centenary service.
I have to say that the comments made by President Higgins really are not conducive towards reconciliation
“The President has made his position clear but I have to say I’m very surprised – I really thought that the President would have risen above the politics of all of this,” he told BBC Radio Ulster.
“He uses language that, I think, is unfortunately retrograde. He talks about being the President of Ireland, not the President of the Republic of Ireland, despite the fact that people voted to remove the territorial claim over Northern Ireland and that there was recognition in the constitution of the Republic of Ireland of the existence of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom.
“I think the language used by the President is not forward-looking and doesn’t recognise the reality that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. It’s back to the old days when the president believes that he is president of the whole island, which we all know he is not.
“I have to say that the comments made by President Higgins really are not conducive towards reconciliation.”