Republic of Ireland news

Huge backing for President Michael D Higgins

A poll shows that 81 percent of respondents support a decision by President Michael D Higgins not to attend an event to mark the partition of Ireland

OPINION poll results show there is huge support for a decision by President Michael D Higgins not to attend a religious event to mark the partition of Ireland in Armagh next month.

A political row erupted last week after President Higgins turned down an invitation to the attend the event, which has been organised by church leaders.

A new Irish Thinks/Irish Mail on Sunday poll published yesterday revealed that 81 percent of respondents supported the decision by President Higgins not to go.

Read More: Tom Kelly: Michael D Higgins right not to give in to faux outrage (premium)

It was among a range of questions, including voting intention in the Republic, asked at the weekend.

Just 13 per cent of respondents said he should have accepted the invitation, with five percent of respondents saying the 'don't know'.

The poll also revealed that President Higgins is currently the most popular public figure in Ireland with a satisfaction rating of 7.3.

The president has faced criticism from unionists for declining to join the service, which is expected to be attended by Queen Elizabeth along with political leaders.

The event is Titled 'Service of Reflection and Hope, to mark the Centenary of the partition of Ireland and the formation of Northern Ireland'.

President Higgins said the title of the service, which will take place in Armagh's Church of Ireland cathedral, "isn't a neutral statement politically".

The president has defended his decision not to attend.

He came under fire from unionist last week with DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson asking whether the decision was politically motivated as a consequence of advice from the Dublin government.

It has denied that it influenced the president's move.

President Higgins later challenged the DUP criticism and SDLP MP Claire Hanna yesterday accused some unionist politicians of exploiting the public spat, saying he has "walked the walk" on reconciliation and north-south matters.

Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin said the event had not been politicised by church leaders.

"We've been explaining and discussing this event now for maybe six to nine months with all of the various parties and we have always insisted that it will remain apolitical and we hope to try to keep it that way, but we can't rely on others to do that but we will be keeping this as a moment of prayer and reflection," he said.

It has now emerged that the Irish government is coming under pressure to also pull out of the planned event.

The Sunday Times reported yesterday that senators Erin McGreehan and Fiona O'Loughlin had joined with TD Michael Moynihan in arguing against sending representatives.

Labour Party leader Alan Kelly is also opposed to government participation.

Meanwhile, it is reported that Queen Elizabeth's representatives and the Northern Ireland Office are unhappy that details of her planned attendance at the event have been made public.

A report in the Sunday Independent said it is against royal protocol to disclose Queen Elizabeth's movements so far in advance of a visit due to the security situation.

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