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What Kielty could teach Higgins about difficult encounters… how can President be peacemaker now?

2 11 16

The only thing worse than President of Ireland Michael D Higgins’s surly refusal to attend the ecumenical centenary “service of reflection and hope to mark the partition of Ireland and the formation of Northern Ireland” has been reading the divisive and gloating commentary that greeted it.

His non-show was a long time coming. The invitation, also sent to the Queen, had been issued in May but his rejection of it came in mid-September, when arrangements were more than finalised.

This was a bog-standard joint occasion among many in the decade of centenaries.

One more painfully choreographed effort to salve wounds, build relationships, acknowledge communities, salute peace-makers and nudge a little further on into a civilised exchange on this island and with our neighbours.

Hence the invitation to the two heads of state — non-political figureheads whose purpose is to attend events like this. Even when those events are co-ordinated by those bastions of intolerance and ill-will in Ireland as, er, (checks notes) the five main Christian churches.

What they can’t have foreseen — and were clearly embarrassed by on the President’s behalf — was that this figurehead would respond so publicly and aggressively.

Had the churches understood the President’s particular sensitivities, they wouldn’t have extended the invitation and so caused this embarrassment.

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Not least because the rest of us in Northern Ireland are capable of taking umbrage and offence very quickly. It doesn’t need headed paper. We can do it with a look, a word, a........

© Belfast Telegraph

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