Northern Ireland

Michelle O'Neill's coronation decision met with praise and criticism

	Sinn Féin  vice president Michelle O'Neill. Picture by Niall Carson/PA Wire
Sinn Féin vice president Michelle O'Neill. Picture by Niall Carson/PA Wire

First minister designate Michelle O'Neill's decision to attend next month's coronation of king Charles has been met with both praise and criticism.

The Sinn Féin deputy leader said her presence at the May 6 event in London demonstrated a commitment to "advancing peace and reconciliation".

Former Sinn Féin MLA Alex Maskey will also attend the coronation in his capacity as speaker of the Stormont assembly.

Confirmation that Ms O'Neill will be among those celebrating the official crowning of King Charles comes seven months after she joined mourners at Queen Elizabeth's funeral.

The Mid Ulster MLA described herself as an "Irish republican" but said she recognised that there were many people across Ireland for whom the coronation was a "hugely important occasion".

"I think at this juncture it's important that I demonstrate and fulfil my commitment to be that first minister for all and attend the coronation to represent all of our community," she told the PA news agency.

"I'm comfortable enough in my own skin and I think that it's important that at times like this that I demonstrate by words and deeds that I will be the first minister for all, I will represent everybody in our community."

She said it was a "time to respect our differing and equally legitimate aspirations" and that her eyes were "very much focused on the future".

"That has to be about reconciling our people," she said.

"So that's why in moments like this it's very important that, particularly for myself as a first minister for all and somebody who feels that I can represent everybody in our community, that I reach out and that I do something that actually demonstrates my commitment to bring forward a better society for everybody."

DUP MLA Brian Kingston described Ms O'Neill's decision as a "step in the right direction", however, he called on Sinn Féin to support the flying of Union flag on "all publicly-funded buildings" on coronation day.

"Sinn Féin elected members have led a campaign in councils across Northern Ireland to remove every element of royalty and aspects of Britishness," the North Belfast representative said.

"This decision by Michelle O’Neill must be about more than a photograph, there needs to be a change of wider policy and attitude by Sinn Féin."

The first minister-elect faced criticism from former party colleague and Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín, who said Sinn Féin and Ms O’Neill had "diverged significantly from this republican political philosophy". 

He said Ms O'Neill would be attending the coronation of a king who "claims jurisdiction over her as a subject and over her country". 

"Sinn Féin will jettison almost anything in their quest for power," he said. 

People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll said the Sinn Féin northern leader’s decision was "utterly shameful".

"We are socialists – we recognise that there are people across these islands who will struggle to make ends meet while this lavish coronation ceremony takes place," he said. 

"We would never attend such a ceremony - we want to make monarchy history."