Northern Ireland news

Fianna Fáil TD criticises Irish government over Armagh centenary service

Fianna Fáil TD Niamh Smyth has criticised the decision

A FIANNA Fáil TD has criticised the Irish government's decision to send two representatives to a controversial church service in Armagh to mark the centenary of partition.

Niamh Smyth said she disagreed with sending her party colleague Jack Chambers, who is the government chief whip, to the ceremony.

It comes after the government last week said it will be represented at the event on October 21 by Fine Gael foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney and Mr Chambers.

It follows controversy when President Michael D Higgins announced last month he would not attend the service, organised by the four main churches in the north and which Queen Elizabeth is expected to attend, because he believed it was not politically neutral.

Unionists were heavily critical of his decision, with DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson claiming he had "set back north-south relations" in Ireland.

Church leaders said the service was to "explore the opportunity to deepen the work of reconciliation in a context of respectful dialogue".

But Cavan and Monaghan TD Ms Smyth said she did not believe Mr Chambers should be attending the ceremony amid reports a number of other Fianna Fáil TDs have expressed concern about the Irish government's decision.

"I certainly don't think it's necessary (for him to be there) when we have the minister for foreign affairs who is available and has agreed to attend".

"I live in a border constituency where partition brought a lot of strife, a lot of loss of life, a lot of social injustice.

"It (the centenary) certainly doesn't mark a prosperous or a good time in the history of Ireland.

"There will be very strong feelings in relation to that.

"But I am also mindful of the fact that we do have to reach out to those who have a different perspective than us.

"I do want to see a united Ireland in my lifetime and I believe that we do have to reach out the hand of friendship, and the government by sending the minister for foreign affairs I believe signals that, without sending the government chief whip."

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