A Remembrance Day ceremony was hosted by the Speaker Mitchel McLaughlin in the Great Hall of the Assembly today with representatives of all the main parties in attendance.
All seemed to be going well until at the end some Unionists in the audience broke out into rendition of God Save The Queen at the end of the ceremony.
What ensued was annoyance from Sinn Fein and defiance from the DUP.
First up we had the DUP’s Peter Weir with this statement;
It is right that on Armistice Day we pause to mark 97 years since the cessation of fighting on the Western Front and all those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in World War One and since then.
There is an annual Act of Remembrance within Parliament Buildings, which usually closes with the singing of the National Anthem. Those of us who participated in the spontaneous singing of the National Anthem this year did because it is normal for the anthem to be sung at such events. It was not a stunt or a politically motivated gesture, but simply a normal part of such events anywhere in the United Kingdom.
To avoid any confusion in future it would perhaps be beneficial if the National Anthem was again placed on the order of service next year.
For Sinn Fein, we had the Culture Minister, Carál Ní Chuilín ;
I attended this morning’s civic remembrance event in the Great Hall as a mark of respect.
A number of my party colleagues were also in attendance.
The event itself, led by Assembly Speaker Mitchel McLaughlin, was conducted in a spirit of generosity and was respectful, inclusive and received wide support from right across the political spectrum.
It was disappointing therefore that some unionists chose to disrespect the spirit of the event with a childish stunt in an attempt to embarrass those in attendance.
I welcome the fact that other unionist representatives came to me to express their anger and disappointment at how the civic remembrance event had been disrespected.
Would be interesting to know what Unionist representatives spoke to Caral and other Sinn Fein representatives afterwards?
My question for the Sluggerverse; is this a storm in a tea-cup? Or do Sinn Fein have a reasonable complaint here?
Sidenote; I understand that it was a member of the TUV in attendance at the ceremony who started singing God Save The Queen.
Sammy Morrison (works with the TUV) told the BBC;
I’ve been attending the act of remembrance every year since my boss, Jim Allister, was elected to Stormont in 2011.
This is the first year it didn’t appear on the order of service. I didn’t see why it was left off.
It was sung every other year – nobody that attended those events in the past was offended by it, I don’t see why anybody should be offended by it this year.
The vast, vast majority of people who attended obviously felt we should have been singing the national anthem as well because they joined in with me.
Mike Nesibitt (who on the BBC footage can be seen speaking with McGuinness afterwards) said this;
I think we should all welcome the ever more inclusive nature of Stormont’s Armistice Day service, but I am unclear why the National Anthem was dropped from the Order of Service. It should be there and the Ulster Unionist Party will be meeting Assembly authorities tomorrow to discuss why it was not.
What is regrettable is that some nationalists who did attend today felt they had been ambushed. As we work our way through this challenging decade of Centenaries, we should ensure there are no surprises for any participants. Today was the worst outcome for both unionists and nationalists. I want the National Anthem back on the Order of Service for everyone to see.
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs