Was Michael D right to decline Belfast City Council’s ‘invitation’…?

I see there’s been a major flaming debate on whether President Michael D Higgins was right or wrong to decline to come once the DUP said they would not be attending. I only joined in late last night on Twitter, but I couldn’t see a sound reason against him doing so.

Although Belfast City Council has done some very good things with the limited powers it has over the years, we’ve also seen that it can be every bit the sectarian death trap that Mairtin O’Muilleoir described it as in his seminal Dome of Delight.

If we doubted it, the ‘fleg’ dispute of December 2012 came directly out of an inability of the DUP and Sinn Fein to strike an equitable deal (ie one in line with the Equality Commission’s report on the matter).

So, with this set and long-term pattern of defaulting behaviour, who thought really it was a good idea to invite the Irish President in the teeth of an election with the two major parties [the DUP and Sinn Fein if you are really struggling to remember – Ed] running against* each other?

In strictly northern terms, whichever way it went it was always going to hand some class of electoral advantage to one but not the other. In this case, it was game set and match to the DUP. The President could have stayed on, but it would only have been to restore SF’s electoral advantage.

Should the DUP have gone? Well, if you talk to the DUP they say that in accordance with a protocol set between themselves and Sinn Fein over the commemoration of the centenary of the Ulster Covenant they had approved of the invitation but had never indicated they would attend themselves.

Nonetheless, despite kicking up a row over the invitation of the then First Minister which led to the establishment of a protocol of the Lord Mayor (whose prerogative it is to make the invitation) seeking  advanced permission, Sinn Fein did actually have the grace to attend the 2012 banquet.

So it is easy to see why the SDLP and Alliance are also annoyed with the DUP for not sticking with the spirit of that 2012 agreement. But given the DUP ‘pull out’ it would have been a misuse of the good offices of Uachtarán na hÉireann. 

IMichael D Higgins had no choice but to pull out of a lop-sided arrangement he’d been led to believe would not be the case.

*Yes, I know they don’t actually run against each other but each is the other’s most electorally lucrative bête noire.

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  • Msiegnaro

    Due to the way the insurgency was commemorated in NI with illegal parades and paramilitary displays he was absolutely right to reject it as no Unionist could endorse this type of behaviour.

  • Ernekid

    I don’t think it was President Higgins personal decision, He has a big staff of people who work out his schedule and his appointments and they probably felt that with the changing circumstances it had become inappropriate event.

    Personally I feel a little let down, as an Irish citizen it’s nice to have the President pay attention to his Northern citizens once in a while. I think that the 1916 commemorations have largely been marked with mature reflection and a sober discussion about what the Irish Republic means in 2016. This has been in a marked contrast with the boorish behaviour of much of Political Unionism who have been behaving like immature backwoodsmen.

  • Msiegnaro

    The “President” has absolutely no jurisdiction in Northern Ireland, the population of Northern Ireland are not his citizens.

    Lets get real Erne Kid, this is another dig by you at Unionism. By your standards we should expect Sinn Fein/SDLP to recognise and attend Twelfth of July events.

    I also note that the “mature reflection and sober discussion” on the insurgency you mentioned made no reference to paramilitary style events and illegal parades in Northern Ireland that were arranged to commemorate this event.

  • Ernekid

    Funnily enough the Irish passport in my desk drawer disproves your assertation on my citizenship. The Irish president is as much the president of his citizens in Northern Ireland as Barack Obama is the president for American citizens living in the UK

  • Msiegnaro

    You may classify yourself as being Southern Irish, however Northern Ireland is in the UK and therefore Mr. Higgins has no jurisdiction here just as in your example President Obama has no authority over the UK.

    Still waiting on your condemnation of illegal parades and other such event in NI to commemorate the insurgency.

  • kensei

    Repeat after me: people are not the state.

  • kensei

    I think the assumption SF get no electoral mileage out of the DUP defaulting again is fundamentally flawed. Its worth more than the President attending.

  • Badhaggis

    ‘Still waiting on your condemnation of illegal parades’

    What does that have to do with anything whatsoever? Largely the Republic has dealt with 1916 in a rather sombre manner, and rather well I thought as an outside observer to it.

  • Ernekid

    Why do I need to comdemn a bunch of sad bastard weekend warriors playing pretend? Ain’t nuthin to do with me guv, honest!

  • Dominic Hendron

    It’s just another sigh moment in our political process and far from giving electoral advantage it will convince people of the futility of politics here, especially the young. Why would serious people want to be embroiled here except they had no choice and, probably, no life

  • colmh

    Didn’t Marty say he would attend the 12th if invited? I don’t expect that invite to be forthcoming anytime soon.

  • mickfealty

    I’ll buy that Ken…

  • Gopher

    Could it be Gerry’s comments on the Republic as we know it not actually being “The Republic” (Splitters!) Mr Higgins required unionists there to reflect he was not just being used as a political football by the true heirs of 1916. ( one of 674 factional true heirs) After all the coverage of 1916 (the Easter bit not the interesting bits like Jutland and the Somme) one could be forgiven for thinking the Queen led the Easter Rising given the amount of exposure her wreath laying got. I have no problem using HRH to validate the institutions of a state (it’s what she is paid to do) and if that means lending a hand to an insecure neighbour again no problem. (The Queen makes anyone look presidential SF kinda don’t Mr Higgins ain’t stupid) Sooner or later the Republic. (The one we actually know) is going to have to man up and accept what they signed to in 1998 and tell it like it is. John Brutton stuck his head above the parapet time a few other did likewise. The first step is to admit you have a problem or you will be running scared of corner boys all your life.

  • barnshee

    “The Irish president is as much the president of his citizens”

    and like you he should be welcome as a Guest in the UK -just don`t overstay the welcome

  • WindowLean

    Mike Nesbitt not going either

  • Sliothar

    Yeah, the way you didn’t endorse the parading with illegally imported arms in 1912 and the paramilitary UDA & UVF parades of recent years.
    I think there’s a little bit of red, white and blue dust in your eye which seems to block your objective vision…

  • Anglo-Irish

    I doubt Ernekid classifies himself as Southern Irish as no such political jurisdiction exists, I assume he believes – correctly – that he’s an Irish citizen.

    Why would the President require jurisdiction anyway?

    Heads of state regularly visit places outside their own bailiwick it’s an integral part of their duties.

    I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with Mary McAleese and her husband Martin when they visited Sheffield during her Presidency.

    Extremely impressive lady and Martin was enjoyable to talk to also.

    Not a very friendly or welcoming lot you NI people are you?

    Compare and contrast the welcome that the queen and Charles received in the Republic during their recent visits.

  • Thomas Barber

    Thats why lots of Irish citizens in this part of Ireland take no part in British politics its never ending dog chasing tail politics – Pointless.

  • Dominic Hendron

    What’s the point in abstaining?

  • Thomas Barber

    No thanks we’ve been trying the British version of dog chase tail politics for hundreds of years it gets us no-where. The British government take no notice of what Irish people want they impose what they want.

  • Dominic Hendron

    So we go from stupid politics to bad politics?

  • Thomas Barber

    Or we can eternally engage in British politics and eternally wonder what we’re doing wrong.

  • Dominic Hendron

    I’ve lost you, we have the politics we have and we have to deal with it just as our forefathers did in their time and for now that involves the British

  • aquifer

    ” I know they don’t actually run against each other but each is the other’s most electorally lucrative bête noire”

    Yep it’s punch and judy time, but we are not the kids with wide eyes and open mouths.

  • Anglo-Irish

    It would be funny if it wasn’t for the negative effect it has on peoples lives.

    To a certain degree it happens in virtually all of politics across the board. ‘ If they’re for it. we’re against it ‘ it just seems that in NI it’s more than a knee jerk action it’s in the blood.
    Too busy being obstructive to have time for anything constructive.

  • Thomas Barber

    What did our forefathers achieve engaging in British politics ?

  • Thomas Barber

    Indeed Greenflag during the Easter Break most of the postboxes on the Falls Road were painted green ther next working day after the Easter parade the they were being repainted red. I guess it was too much to bear for some.

  • Dominic Hendron

    That’s not the point I was making but if Jeremy Corbyn became PM would that not change the dynamic of politics here?

  • eireanne3

    s/he’s probably wearing traditional Hi-focus Super-prejudist lenses

  • Slater

    The word that dares not speak its name in the Easter Rising centenary saturation has been ‘partition’ and it seems Higgins felt he could not address that in Belfast while keeping up the pretence that the rebels achieved what they fought for.

  • Saint Etienne

    Can you point us to the unprecedented state occasion afforded either the Larne gunrunning (1914 btw) or the Covenant (1912)?

    Once it became clear both the funds the Dublin government were pumping into this and the nature of the events they were funding, I would contend sitting in on the titular head of that state to anything remotely connected with it became impossible.

    And in any case, this is a much more difficult topic for mainstream unionists due to the fact that whatever your opinion of it, 1912 firmly represented a bygone era, whilst elected mainstream republicans openly use their version of Easter to commemorate their various bombers and shooters.

  • Sliothar

    “Can you point us to the unprecedented state occasion afforded either the Larne gunrunning (1914 btw) or the Covenant (1912)?” (Apols for the typo, thnx).

    ‘State occasion’, no; you haven’t got a state yet, you’ve a ‘Pravince’ (well, two thirds of it!). Being ‘British’ is fine at times, as long as they don’t interfere…

    And I’m not quite sure what you mean by the use of the word ‘unprecedented’. It’s the 100th anniversary, ffs, of the spark which led to the foundation of an independent, sovereign state. That was ‘unprecendented’, if you ask me. Television services all over the world covered it, in case you missed it. Even BBC had several and excellent programmes on it – esp. Portillo’s take from the British (mainland, of course!) viewpoint.

    As for, ‘1912 firmly represented a bygone era’, I’d be grateful for your opinion on the annual commemoration of the ‘Twalf’, which, if my memory serves, commemorates a little skirmish along a minor river in Co Louth in 1690.
    Perchance, a pre-byegone era?

  • Brendan Heading

    Can you point us to the unprecedented state occasion afforded either the Larne gunrunning (1914 btw) or the Covenant (1912)?

    That the British monarchy would run 500 miles in the opposite direction of any attempt to involve them in a celebration of the above events is something that, perhaps, Unionists should reflect upon.

  • eamoncorbett

    Spot on with regards to nationality , there is no such thing as a Southern Irish man , or Northern Irish man , my passports clearly state that I’m Irish on one passport and British on the other .

  • Saint Etienne

    That’s simply rushing to stick the boot in without thinking. No one considered the gunrunning and associated events something that while important to a section of society, would be appropriate for a head of state to commemorate. That is the correct approach.

    For the record, comparing the Queen’s actions with the Irish President’s is a lesson in comparing diplomacy & representing all citizens on the one hand with political angling and representing a single ideal on the other.

  • Brendan Heading

    No one considered the gunrunning and associated events something that while important to a section of society, would be appropriate for a head of state to commemorate.

    It’s probably just as well, because no British head of state would go anywhere near it – as it was an act of sedition and treason against the Crown. Hell, you wouldn’t get a low-level NIO official to attend such an event.

    I’m no big fan of 1916, the ideals it represented, or the lionising that is going on around it, but commemorating violent acts which are held to have been crucial in the process of obtaining independence are a custom not particular to Ireland and are celebrated by other states around the world.

  • Saint Etienne

    Again your logic doesn’t stand up to scrutiny – our head of state has already attended many events connected with acts of treason against the Crown – Dublin included.

    The simple fact remains, unionist politicians are wary of being seen to promote such acts as state occasions due to their violent and divisive nature. Perhaps other Irishmen could learn from them.

  • Brendan Heading

    I think when it comes to dealing with another country which is now independent the British government overlooks the fact that what occurred in the past was treasonous. Otherwise there could be no diplomatic relations with several dozen states, including some very large ones.

    I’m trying to decode the principles behind your second paragraph, but I’m getting lost. Do unionist politicians really sit around and say, hold on lads, this stuff that happened in the past has a violent and divisive nature – let’s commemorate it by holding thousands of annual parades, but out of respect for our neighbours we’ll not invite the head of state ? You’re defining the problem to fit the solution.

  • Saint Etienne

    I think it’s clear you’re defining my points in terms of your prejudices against unionist politicians.

    The difference between parades held by members of the public and a state officially ‘encouraging’ it’s citizens to honour one view of history needs to explanation.

  • Brendan Heading

    The logic of where you are coming from his hilarious. Yes, it was my birthday last week, but the only reason why I didn’t invite the Duke of Cambridge was out of respect to my republican friends. Pull the other one.

    The difference between parades held by members of the public and a state officially ‘encouraging’ it’s citizens to honour one view of history needs to explanation.

    I think it’s bizarre that in a country full of politicians (from all sides) which encourage a specific view of history to the denial of all others you’d get precious about whether or not a state is doing it.

  • Saint Etienne

    No harm to you Brendan, but I think the ability to compare your own birthday to a state occasion is the only illuminating contribution in this conversation.

  • Brendan Heading