A civic dinner due to be hosted in Belfast City Hall next week to mark 100 years since the 1916 Easter Rising has been plagued with problems.
Yesterday Irish president Michael D. Higgins issued a statement saying that while he had accepted Belfast City Council’s original invitation under the pretence of a cross-community agreement, he was now withdrawing his acceptance of the invite.
“This now is no longer the case,” the statement read, “leaving the President with no other option but to withdraw as he does not want to become embroiled in matters of political controversy.”
The dinner, organised by Belfast City Council to mark the Easter Rising centenary celebrations is due to take next Friday, April 8.
According to Belfast Lord Mayor Arder Carson, a Sinn Fein councillor, the dinner originally had received cross-community support with a full council backing.
The council backing was part of a cross-community agreement that meant funds would be granted for Ulster Covenant and Battle of the Somme commemorations too.
Following the dinner being announced in March, there has been confusion over who will attend.
The DUP has publicly stated that they have no problem with next week’s event but will not be attending. This lead to criticism from the Alliance and SDLP parties who accused the DUP of breaking a cross-community agreement.
SDLP councillor Nichola Murray told the BBC, “all parties agreed to support, and by support we meant that people would attend.”
Other unionist parties have also failed to confirm their attendance.
Despite criticising the DUP, the Alliance Party’s leader David Ford has declined a personal invitation. Speaking to the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme, Ford stated that he wouldn’t, as minister of Justice, “associate himself with events that can be claimed as a direct inheritance to current dissident republicans”.
Following President Higgins’ announcement, the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) announced that they would not be present at next week’s event either.
The event’s difficulties also follow a period of political bickering about how the Rising should be commemorated in Northern Ireland.
DUP leader and Northern Ireland first minister Arlene Foster recently stated that the Easter Rising’s leaders “were egotists, who were doing it to bring glory to themselves,” according to the Irish Times.
Despite the difficulties, Belfast Mayor Arder Carson has stated through an official statement saying: “The dinner will of course be going ahead on April 8 and I am very much looking forward to the occasion”.