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National anthem row Armistice Day event 'was meant to be all-inclusive'

A Stormont Armistice Day event which sparked a row over the national anthem was meant to be all-inclusive, the speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly has said.

Mitchel McLaughlin, who was the first Sinn Fein MLA to lead the act of remembrance at Parliament Buildings, has written to MLAs urging them to resolve their differences around commemoration.

He said: "How we reflect and commemorate together is a challenge which all of us have to resolve in the coming years.

"We can design fully separate events, which would be missed opportunities, or we can work together to take account of each other's sensitivities and differences to produce shared and inclusive events which would be beneficial to us all."

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers joined unionists and nationalists including Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness at the wreath-laying event in Stormont's Great Hall on Wednesday.

As the ceremony finished Sammy Morrison, a press officer for the Traditional Unionist Voice party, began an impromptu rendition of the national anthem.

Other unionists also joined in the spontaneous song.

The move was branded a childish stunt by some politicians as singing of the national anthem was not on the printed order of service

Sinn Fein Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin said: "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."

Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt said it was unfortunate that some nationalists felt "ambushed".

In his letter, which was sent to all 108 elected representatives in the Assembly, Mr McLaughlin claimed such an inclusive remembrance event at Stormont could not have been envisaged a decade ago.

He added: "When I look back on my time as Speaker I will recall the view from the podium as I presided over the two minutes silence and looked out over many faces from many backgrounds gathered together in the cause of remembrance. That would have been unimaginable 10 or 20 years ago."

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