Taoiseach has expressed ‘surprise’ at Sinn Fein’s opposition to sending Irish government officials to a service to mark Northern Ireland’s centenary.
Icheal Martin spoke at a visit to Belfast last Friday.
Sinn Fein Vice President Michelle O’Neill criticized the decision to send representatives to the event in Armagh, to which Irish President Michael D Higgins declined an invitation.
Martin retorted, saying he was surprised by Sinn Fein’s position, adding that they sent a senior representative to a similar event hosted by the Presbyterian Church.
It was revealed that the Irish government will send Foreign Minister Simon Coveney and Prime Minister Jack Chambers to attend the confessional service on 21 October.
Martin said: “The President’s decision was made correctly and in accordance with views he formulated earlier, so we fully support the President.
“With regard to the fact that the government was subsequently invited to the event, we have to take the spirit with which the invitation was sent to us, so we decided to be represented at it.”
In response to Sinn Fein’s opposition to sending two government representatives to the event, Martin said he was “surprised”.
“Sinn Fein would have attended events last September in the Presbyterian Church, at an event more or less of the same type to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland and the partition, so I can not quite see the consistency of the Sinn Fein view on this quite frankly.
“I would like to ask at this stage that we have to move forward in terms of going collectively together on this island in the spirit of reconciliation.”
Martin spoke after a busy day of engagements.
His first stop was a meeting of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Chambers Ireland to discuss the current climate agenda as well as the forthcoming COP26 and the importance of protecting the biodiversity of both Northern Ireland and the Republic with cross-border projects.
He said it was “no exaggeration to say that the subject and timing could not be more important.”
“The impact of climate change will be felt by every single person, household, business and community on this island. It is no longer something that can be attributed to a distant future, ”said Martin.
“The next ten years are crucial if we are to deal with the climate crisis and ensure a secure and bright future for all of us.
“That is why the COP26 summit in Glasgow next month will be so important and why Ireland will be fully involved. Translating science and the speed of the climate and biodiversity crisis into politics and action is key, and this will provide a critical forum. ”
He then visited a women’s center in North Belfast, the first visit of its kind for Martin in his role as Taoiseach.
There, he spoke with women and girls who benefit from courses and education from Women’s Tec, the largest provider of education for women in non-traditional skills in Northern Ireland.
During his time at the center, he tried to learn how to drill a bird box with one of the year 10 students from Trinity College Belfast, who parked in Women’s Tec’s ‘Not Just for Boys’ summer program.
This program taught young girls a variety of hereditary skills such as carpentry and grooming to encourage more women to enter the professions.
Martin then got a hands-on exercise with the women from the group “Time for Me” at Women’s Tec, which showed him how to plaster his hand.
Lynn Carvill, CEO of Women’s Tec, said: “Over the past 18 months, we have seen women’s needs in our communities increase significantly and we have worked hard to meet those needs and help women succeed in all areas of their life .
“A visit to Taoiseach today will help us focus on the important work we do at Women’s Tec.
“We are pleased to welcome him into our building and are grateful for the opportunity to show what we do here.”
He ended his visit there by first and foremost witnessing the benefits of the nursery on site for all the local women and admiring their very own Suffragette-themed garden.
Martin said he then had a “very interesting” visit to the Cancer Research Center at Queen’s University Belfast on Thursday afternoon, where he witnessed some of the “first-class projects” they are working on there.
“We then had a broader discussion with Queen’s University authorities about the Joint Island Initiative on Research,” he said.
“Through this, there are great opportunities in terms of developing research throughout the island for projects, so that we can help solve problems and contribute to the solutions of problems that the island faces, be it climate change, be it cancer, be it other health areas, be it infectious diseases, be it cybersecurity. ”
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