Armistice Day row erupts after God Save the Queen 'dropped' from Belfast service
Sinn Fein's Caral Ni Chuilin brands singing of anthem a 'childish stunt'
A row has erupted after God Save the Queen was not included in a Stormont Armistice Day service.
Politicians attended the ceremony in Parliament Buildings this morning. The anthem was not on the event’s order of service, but was sung by some in attendance at the end.
Angry unionists said that the anthem had been part of the event in previous years and are demanding answers about why it was not included.
An impromptu rendition of the anthem was led by Sammy Morrison of the TUV and joined by some DUP members.
Mr Morrison’s aunt and uncle were badly wounded in the IRA’s Enniskillen Poppy Day bombing in November 1987. Eight people were killed in the no warning attack at the town’s cenotaph.
When contacted by the Belfast Telegraph Mr Morrison said: “I was the one who started the singing of God Save the Queen.”
Mr Morrison’s party leader, Jim Allister, has submitted a written question “To ask the Assembly Commission why was the National Anthem dropped from the Assembly’s annual Remembrance Day event” and it is expected to be dealt with next week.
This is the first year the event was held in the Great Hall instead of the Senate Chamber where there was an organ to accompany singing.
Mr Morrison believes that the venue was changed because Mitchel McLaughlin of Sinn Fein hosted the event. He is the first Sinn Fein Speaker at Stormont and laid a wreath alongside Malcom McKibben, head of the Civil Service.
Some participants claimed Mike Nesbitt, the UUP leader, told Mr McGuinness, of Sinn Fein, that the unscheduled singing had been “a stunt”.
Sinn Féin's Carál Ní Chuilín attended the service along with her party colleague Martin McGuinness, the deputy first minister.
Ms Ni Chuilin said: "I attended this morning’s civic remembrance event in the Great Hall as a mark of respect. A number of my party colleagues were also in attendance.
"The event itself, led by Assembly Speaker Mitchel McLaughlin, was conducted in a spirit of generosity and was respectful, inclusive and received wide support from right across the political spectrum.
"It was disappointing therefore that some unionists chose to disrespect the spirit of the event with a childish stunt in an attempt to embarrass those in attendance.
"I welcome the fact that other unionist representatives came to me to express their anger and disappointment at how the civic remembrance event had been disrespected."
The British Legion guidance on Acts of Remembrance provides a long Order of Service with hymns and the anthem as options.
However the guidance adds “the Order of Service can be altered to suit the needs of local resources; however the Exhortation, placing of the wreaths and the two-minute silence is essential. And it is desirable to include sounding the Last Post and the Reveille preferably by a bugler.” All this was included.
Mr Morrison questioned the change. “I have attended the Act of Remembrance every year since Jim Allister was elected to Stormont in 2011 and this is the first year the National Anthem was excluded” he said.
In a reference to Mr McLaughlin’s Sinn Fein membership he said “I am not going to listen to somebody who is in a party that is inextricably linked to the IRA Army Council talk a load of nonsense about the First World War knowing that that organisation tried to kill my aunt at Enniskillen.”
His aunt and uncle, Daphne and Alan Stephenson, were buried in the rubble of Enniskillen and the memory of the bomb is seared in his mind. “On the Monday after the bomb, while it was still cordoned off, my father brought myself and my sister up to Enniskillen to show us the wreckage and told us ‘don’t ever forget this and what these people did.’”
He said “I wear a poppy to remember Enniskillen. I would rather Sinn Fein hadn’t attended. How can you justify being at a supposed Act of Remembrance when a few years ago you were blowing people up for going to an Act of Remembrance? I can’t get away from the idea that the anthem was excluded this morning in case the people who planned Enniskillen would be offended.”
DUP MLA Peter Weir, who was also at the event, said: "There is an annual Act of Remembrance within Parliament Buildings, which usually closes with the singing of the National Anthem.
"Those of us who participated in the spontaneous singing of the National Anthem this year did because it is normal for the anthem to be sung at such events. It was not a stunt or a politically motivated gesture, but simply a normal part of such events anywhere in the United Kingdom.
"To avoid any confusion in future, it would perhaps be beneficial if the National Anthem was again placed on the order of service next year."
Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt MLA said it was regrettable nationalists felt "ambushed".
Mr Nesbitt said: "I think we should all welcome the ever more inclusive nature of Stormont’s Armistice Day service, but I am unclear why the National Anthem was dropped from the Order of Service. It should be there and the Ulster Unionist Party will be meeting Assembly authorities tomorrow to discuss why it was not.
"What is regrettable is that some nationalists who did attend today felt they had been ambushed. As we work our way through this challenging decade of Centenaries, we should ensure there are no surprises for any participants.
"Today was the worst outcome for both unionists and nationalists. I want the National Anthem back on the Order of Service for everyone to see."