Friday 17 November 2017

No role for royals: 1916 events to be strictly 'Irish only' affair

Dublin’s O’Connell Street lies in ruins after the Easter Rising in 1916
Dublin’s O’Connell Street lies in ruins after the Easter Rising in 1916

Sam Griffin

Irish based ambassadors will be the highest level of foreign dignitaries invited to events marking the centenary of the 1916 Rising, it has emerged.

The decision by the government to keep the historic events effectively 'Irish only' - by inviting just those already based in embassies here - removes any lingering doubt that any member of the British royal family might have attended next year's celebrations.

The programme of events to mark the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising, called Ireland 2016, was launched last year.

An updated programme of events was later revealed after opposition parties and the relatives of the 1916 rebels criticised initial plans.

The Government had initially indicated the British monarchy could play a role in the celebrations, following the highly successful visit of Michael D Higgins to the UK last year and Queen Elizabeth's historic visit to Ireland in 2011.

However, it was later decided such a visit could prove to be a "distraction" and take from the events, with Taoiseach Enda Kenny ruling out any involvement by the British monarchy.

The potentially divisive issue has been the subject of several email exchanges between the government and the British ambassador to Ireland Dominick Chilcott, marked "sensitive", which have been obtained by the Irish Independent under the FOI Act.

In March this year, just days before the updated Ireland 2016 programme was launched, an official in the Anglo-Irish division of the Department of Foreign Affairs wrote to Mr Chilcott providing him with the State's "public line in response to any question about inviting high-level visitors to the core Easter 2016 events".

The statement says: "The events in the Ireland 2016 State ceremonial programme will be moments for national commemoration.

"Therefore high level representatives of Ireland's international partners will not be in attendance at these Easter events (although as is normal for many State Ceremonial events, members of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to Ireland may be invited to particular events."

The Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed this remains the Government's position on the matter. It added that another series of events, the 'Ireland 2016 Global and Diaspora Programme', will involve international partners.

In a statement, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said: "Her Majesty's government is committed to working closely with the Irish government during the decade of centenaries marking the events of 1912 - 1922 to promote a greater understanding of our shared history, and to do so in a spirit of historical accuracy, mutual respect, inclusiveness and reconciliation.

"Our hosts have suggested that this is something that is appropriate for the diplomatic corps. We wish to be represented at appropriate level and that is a standard part of diplomacy," a spokesman added.

In another email exchange, Mr Chilcott describes the plans for the centenary celebrations as "a labour of Hercules".

The remark is a colourful reference to Greek mythology and a series of punitive tasks undertaken by the ancient hero after he killed his six children and wife in a fit of madness.

A spokesperson for the FCO said the reference was an effort on the ambassador's behalf to be humorous and said: "I wouldn't read too much into it".

Irish Independent

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