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Unionist anger as anthem dropped at Stormont Armistice service, republicans rail at impromptu rendition

By Liam Clarke

A furious row has erupted after the national anthem was dropped from a Stormont Armistice Day service.

Politicians attended the ceremony in Parliament Buildings yesterday morning. The national anthem was not on the event's order of service, but was sung by some in attendance at the end.

Pacemaker Press 11/11/2015
Belfast, Lord Mayor Arder Carson among those who attended A two-minute silence takes place at Belfast City Hall on Wednesday to mark Armistice Day, to commemorate the dead of two world wars, and every conflict since.
Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 11/11/2015 Belfast, Lord Mayor Arder Carson among those who attended A two-minute silence takes place at Belfast City Hall on Wednesday to mark Armistice Day, to commemorate the dead of two world wars, and every conflict since. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 11/11/2015 Belfast, Lord Mayor Arder Carson among those who attended A two-minute silence takes place at Belfast City Hall on Wednesday to mark Armistice Day, to commemorate the dead of two world wars, and every conflict since. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

Angry unionists said that the anthem had been part of the event in previous years and are demanding answers about why it was excluded.

The DUP's Peter Weir said: "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."

He denied that an impromptu rendition of the anthem led by Sammy Morrison of the TUV, and joined by some DUP members, was a "stunt" as Sinn Fein's Caral Ni Chuilin has claimed.

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."

Some participants claimed Mike Nesbitt, the UUP leader, told Mr McGuinness, of Sinn Fein, that the unscheduled singing had been "a stunt". Last night, neither Mr Nesbitt nor Sinn Fein would comment on this.

Later Ms Ni Chuilin, the culture minister, who was sitting beside Mr Nesbitt, expressed disgust "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," she said.

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 has been held in the Great Hall instead of the Senate Chamber, where there was an organ to accompany singing.

Mr Morrison believes 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 Malcolm McKibben, head of the Civil Service. The British Legion guidance on Acts of Remembrance provides a long order of service with hymns and the anthem as options.

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 questions 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 organisation tried to kill my aunt at Enniskillen."

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt MLA 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.

"It should be there and the Ulster Unionist Party will be meeting Assembly authorities to discuss why it was not.

"What is regrettable is that some nationalists who did attend felt they had been ambushed. It was the worst outcome for both unionists and nationalists."

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