Prince Andrew may still open Northern Ireland railway station, at 'more suitable time'
Translink last night indicated that scandal-hit Prince Andrew could still open Portrush’s upgraded railway station — but at “a more suitable time”.
It is understood a number of Prince Andrew’s upcoming public engagements in Northern Ireland have been cancelled, with the exception of his involvement in a golf competition for children.
Sky News had reported that an invitation to an opening ceremony at the Co Antrim train station had been withdrawn as a result of the ongoing controversy surrounding abuse facilitated by the duke’s late friend, paedophile financier Jeffrey Epstein.
Prince Andrew — who has strenuously denied claims that he forced a woman to have sex with him when she was 17 years old — has been fiercely criticised over his relationship with Epstein.
Translink initially refused to comment on the derailed plans to host an official ceremony in Portrush train station, which recently benefited from a £5m upgrade.
Sky News cited one organiser’s concerns that Prince Andrew’s presence at the event would “change the narrative” surrounding it.
A Translink spokesperson initially said they “have nothing to say” and advised that all queries be directed to the Northern Ireland Office (NIO).
But later last night, a Translink spokesperson said: “We have postponed the official station opening to a more suitable time.”
NIO officials refused to comment and directed all queries to Buckingham Palace.
“Royal visits are a matter for the royal household,” a departmental spokesman insisted.
Buckingham Palace has been facing calls to suspend the Prince from official duties.
However, a Palace spokesperson blamed the postponement on timing issues, due to the prince’s participation in the annual Duke Of York Young Champions Trophy being hosted at Royal Portrush Golf Club.
He confirmed that the founder of the prestigious junior competition has a “full programme” on the north coast where he is expected to spend several days next week.
“HRH will undertake a number of engagements related to the tournament, at which there will be 66 sportsmen and women from 35 countries,” he added.
“The duke will meet volunteers, supporters and representatives from local businesses, host the tournament dinner, attend the tournament and present prizes.”
The Palace spokesperson said they had nothing more to say when asked why the official engagement at an event for children is going ahead, given the nature of the scandal he is embroiled in.
It is understood that Royal Portrush’s committee have been warned that it would be inappropriate for the prince to attend.
Last night Royal Portrush Golf Club secretary Wilma Erskine vowed that the international event, which boasts Rory McIlroy among its former competitors, will go ahead with or without the embattled prince.
“We agreed to host this event a number of years ago and that is what we will do,” she told this newspaper.
“It has been hosted on a links course since 2001 and has young children from over 38 countries participating. For many of the kids this will be the highlight of their year and we aren’t going to take that away from them at the last minute.”
Ms Erskine was unable to confirm if Andrew, the club’s patron, will be present when the four-day tournament tees off on Monday.
“We don’t know if he’s coming or not,” she said. “That’s a decision for the NIO and Buckingham Palace — we don’t want to get involved in anything outside the golf competition.”
Disgraced financier Epstein died in an apparent suicide while he was in prison awaiting trial for a string of child sex trafficking charges. One of his alleged victims, Virginia Roberts, has claimed that she slept with the Duke of York three times.
Her lawyer David Boies has called on Andrew to travel to the US and answer questions under oath and be subject to cross-examination. “Anybody can deny things in a printed statement,” he added.