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Buckingham Palace won’t send another member of Royal Family to centenary church service

Buckingham Palace is not planning to send another member of the Royal Family to Thursday’s centenary church service in Armagh after the Queen pulled out of a visit to Northern Ireland at the last minute.

It was announced the 95-year-old monarch would not make a two-day visit as planned after she "reluctantly accepted medical advice to rest for the next few days”, according to a palace spokesperson.

The Queen had been invited to attend a church service in Armagh to commemorate the centenary of the foundation of Northern Ireland after arriving in Hillsborough on Wednesday . An advance team is already thought to have been in place in Northern Ireland planning for the visit.

The cancellation is not Covid-related and it is not known what are the health issues that forced her to make this concession, which is likely to mark the start of a more considered period of public appearances after a busy time for the monarch.

The spokesperson said the event would go ahead as planned but no other member of the Royal Family would attend in Her Majesty’s place and alongside Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The planned event has been fraught with political difficulty after Irish President Michael D Higgins last month declined an invitation from the Church Leaders Group. After news of his non-attendance first appeared in a story by the Irish Times, Mr Higgins later said he believed the title was politicised and it would not be appropriate for him to attend, leading to fall-out across the island.

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The Northern Ireland Office, the UK Government department responsible for Northern Ireland affairs, was understood to be deeply annoyed that details of the Queen's visit appeared well in advance of news that Mr Higgins would not be attending after he said he shared his concerns with the organisers of the event.

Palace officials declined to comment on whether security issues had played any role in the Queen’s decision not to travel to Northern Ireland.

Church leaders in Northern Ireland said in a joint statement that they were sorry the Queen would not attend the Service of Reconciliation and Hope in Armagh, and acknowledged "the significance of her commitment to the work of peace and reconciliation, which has meant a great deal to people throughout this island". They continued: “We hope that tomorrow’s service will provide an opportunity to further that work, with an emphasis on our shared hopes for the future.”

The Queen is in "good spirits" but "disappointed that she will no longer be able to visit Northern Ireland", the palace said. A spokesperson added: "The Queen sends her warmest good wishes to the people of Northern Ireland and looks forward to visiting in the future." The monarch is, however, still expected to attend the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow later this month.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said: "We thank Her Majesty for her good wishes to the people of Northern Ireland and trust that she will keep well and benefit from a period of rest.

"It is always a joy to have Her Majesty in Royal Hillsborough and we look forward to a further visit in the near future."

Wishing the Queen well, Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie said the monarch had been "a source of great comfort during Northern Ireland's darkest days and provided lasting leadership as we moved into a new era for all our people".

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said he wished the Queen "all the very best as she takes a few days' rest".

The Queen, the nation's longest-reigning monarch, attended a series of events in recent days, hosting a Global Investment Summit at Windsor Castle, where she is currently resting.

It was revealed on Tuesday the monarch had declined the Oldie of the Year award proffered from the magazine of the same name. She said: "You are only as old as you feel.”

Last week, the Queen was seen using a walking stick for support as she attended a service at Westminster Abbey marking the centenary of the Royal British Legion.

She last used a walking stick in 2003 and 2004 after a knee operation but it was thought to be the first she used one for comfort and not for a specific medical reason. She also took a shorter route into the Abbey and gathered reporters were told this was for the Queen's own comfort.

The cobbled and uneven surface outside the abbey is thought to have played a part in the decision.

Just after the end of World War Two, the Queen's first trip to Northern Ireland came in 1945 when she was a princess at the age of 19. Had it gone ahead, this week's trip would have been her 26th visit.

Northern Ireland has had several visits from members of the Royal Family over the course of the year to mark the centenary. Prince Charles visited Belfast in May, while Prince William visited Londonderry in September.

The Queen’s husband of 73 years, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, died in April at the age of 99.

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