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Remembrance service anthem branded 'childish stunt'

row: TUV press officer Sammy Morrison, right, sparked a row at a Stormont remembrance service yesterday when he started singing God Save the Queen

The TUV press officer who sparked a row at Stormont after launching into God Save the Queen at the end of yesterday's remembrance service has said he has no regrets.

Sammy Morrison, who in May stood as the party's Westminster candidate in Lagan Valley, said he objected to the British anthem being removed from the service to accommodate republicans.

Yesterday was the first time the annual service was staged in the Great Hall at Parliament Buildings, in what was designed to be an inclusive event.

Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and SDLP deputy speaker John Dallat joined colleagues from both parties as they stood alongside unionist MLAs and Secretary of State Theresa Villiers.

However, after the Armistice Day service ended, Mr Morrison began singing God Save the Queen and was quickly joined by DUP MLAs.

The TUV press officer said he objected to British national anthem's removal from service's running order.

Mr Morrison, whose aunt Daphne Stephenson was among the injured in 1987's Enniskillen bomb, said the anthem had been removed to accommodate those who supported the IRA, whose bomb killed 11 people in the atrocity.

"I took exception to the remembrance service running order being changed to placate Sinn Féin," he said.

"I wear my poppy to remember those who were killed and injured at Enniskillen and singing the national anthem is part of what I do to honour them."

Mr Morrison said he had "absolutely no regrets".

But nationalists have criticised the gesture, as has a member of the assembly staff, who told The Irish News the action by some unionists breached his right to work in a neutral space.

Sinn Féin culture minister Carál Ní Chuilín described the singing of God Save the Queen as a "childish stunt".

"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," she said.

SDLP MLA Alban Maginness said it was unfortunate that some of those taking part in the service "sought to change the tone".

"The service was seen as an act of reconciliation – that was undermined by the actions of a minority," he said.

Alliance leader David Ford said the event was "extremely positive".

"It was a moving event but it was unfortunate some then took it upon themselves to try and embarrass other people by doing something not entirely in the spirit of the occasion," he said.

One Stormont staff member, who chose to remain anonymous, said workers in the assembly had the right to work in neutral environment and that the Great Hall is meant to be an open, shared space.

"The speaker was encouraging a more inclusive event this year," the worker said.

"Unlike MLAs, staff are there five days a week and it is disappointing that the Assembly Commission has as yet, not acknowledged a breach of staff rights to a neutral work place."

DUP chief whip Peter Weir said the service usually closed with the British 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," he said.

"It was not a stunt or a politically motivated gesture, but simply a normal part of such events anywhere in the United Kingdom."

Mr Weir suggested that to avoid future confusion "it would perhaps be beneficial if the national anthem was again placed on the order of service next year."

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