Sinn Féin’s finance spokesperson, Pearse Doherty has said the Government should not send Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney to a service to mark the centenary of partition in Northern Ireland, organised by church leaders.
“President Higgins was absolutely right in deciding not to attend that event,” he told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland.
There were many ways in which the issues of reconciliation across the island of Ireland could be “forwarded” he said, adding Sinn Féin had already participated in a number of different events such as meeting of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II.
"But this isn't about reconciliation, this is about commemorating partition, an act that had a devastating impact on our country," Mr Doherty said.
"I don't think any country in the world would actually be involved in commemorating an event that actually had such a devastating consequence on your island in terms of partition.
"I think the President was right, I think the public were behind the President's decision and I think it would be wrong for the Cabinet to take the decision today to actually send Simon Coveney," he added.
Mr Doherty said it was cynical of the Government to announce a decision on the invitation today, given there was so much “in the news cycle”, such as the OECD tax rate.
When asked if Sinn Féin would participate if a cross-party group were to attend the service, Mr Doherty said the party would not be involved.
“This is a service about commemorating partition - Sinn Féin would not be party to that. In relation to reconciliation, you've seen down through the years many occasions where we've stretched ourselves, indeed we know that we have to stretch ourselves even further as the debate on Irish unity continues.
“President Michael D Higgins had it bang on when he decided to decline this invitation. I think the Government should follow his lead.”
However, Ulster Unionist MLA Mike Nesbitt described Mr Higgins' decision not to attend the event as “surprising and frustrating.”
Mr Nesbitt told RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne show that the President had “outreach and reconciliation in his DNA” and had back channels been opened and used to convey Mr Higgins' concerns then a compromise on the language used could have been reached, he said.
Earlier on the same programme, Clare Fianna Fáil TD Cathal Crowe said it was his personal opinion that the Government should have “no hand, act or part” in the service.
The event had “celebratory undertones” and that something which“celebrates partition is never positive in my book,” Mr Crowe said.
We shouldn’t jump cap in hand at every event in Northern Ireland.
He added he was not “telling” Mr Coveney how to act, but said: “We shouldn’t jump cap in hand at every event in Northern Ireland.”
Mr Nesbitt said the “cap in hand” comment was “quite insulting”, adding Mr Coveney would be welcome to attend the service, and should do so.
However, Mr Nesbitt added that the attendance of the Minister would not “do away with the gross imbalance that the organisers did not want”.
Having one head of state and one Irish Government representative at the event would be “unfortunate”, he said.