President pulls out of 1916 dinner in Belfast
Published 01/04/2016 | 02:30
President Michael D Higgins has pulled out of attending a number of Easter Rising events in Belfast - after it emerged that most Unionists would not be taking part.
One of the main events he had been expected to attend was a formal dinner at Belfast City Hall next Friday evening.
A spokesman for Mr Higgins said he had been left "with no other option but to withdraw as he does not want to become embroiled in matters of political controversy".
Sinn Féin Lord Mayor Arder Carson expressed his disappointment, while the Alliance Party blamed the move on the DUP refusing to attend the dinner. But the DUP group leader on the council, Brian Kingston, said his party had never said it would attend the Easter Rising dinner at City Hall, adding that its position is consistent with leader Arlene Foster's stance.
Ms Foster, along with UUP leader Mike Nesbitt and Alliance leader David Ford, all declined invitations to attend the Irish State's official commemoration event in Dublin last week.
Meanwhile it is understood that Mr Higgins has also pulled out of a planned event at the Linen Hall Library.
Lord Mayor Carson spoke of his disappointment, adding, "The overall programme for the decade was agreed by full council and has cross-party support; and that position has not changed."
"A lot of hard work has gone into creating an inclusive programme of events which is respectful of all viewpoints, and which focuses on the key events of our shared history, and those which have impacted on our city."
A spokesman for Áras an Uachtaráin confirmed President Higgins would not be attending. "The President accepted the invitation to the civic dinner on the basis that there was cross-party support for the invitation," he said.
"This now is no longer the case, leaving the President with no other option but to withdraw as he does not want to become embroiled in matters of political controversy."