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Taoiseach expresses ‘surprise’ at SF’s opposition to Irish Government sending representative to NI centenary service

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Taoiseach Micheál Martin speaking at a climate conference at the SSE Arena Belfast while on a day-long visit to Belfast. Picture: PA

Taoiseach Micheál Martin speaking at a climate conference at the SSE Arena Belfast while on a day-long visit to Belfast. Picture: PA

PA

Taoiseach Micheál Martin speaking at a climate conference at the SSE Arena Belfast while on a day-long visit to Belfast. Picture: PA

The Taoiseach has expressed ‘surprise’ at Sinn Fein’s opposition to sending Irish government representatives to a service to mark Northern Ireland's centenary.

Micheal Martin was speaking on a visit to Belfast on Friday.

Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O'Neill criticised the decision to send representatives to the event in Armagh, which Irish president Michael D Higgins declined an invitation to.

Mr Martin hit back, saying he was surprised by Sinn Fein's stance, adding they sent a senior representative to a similar event organised by the Presbyterian Church.

It was revealed that the Irish Government will be sending Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney and Government Chief Whip Jack Chambers to attend the interdenominational service on October 21.

Mr Martin said: “The President’s decision was properly taken and consistent with views he articulated earlier, so we fully support the President.

“In terms of the government being subsequently invited to the event, we have to take on board the spirit in which that invitation was sent to us, so we decided to be represented at it.”

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In response to Sinn Fein’s opposition to send two government representatives to the event, Mr Martin said that he was “surprised”.

“Sinn Fein would have attended events last September at the Presbyterian Church, at an event more or less the same type to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland and partition, so I don’t get the consistency of the Sinn Fein viewpoint on this quite frankly.

“I would ask at this stage we need to move on in terms of walking collectively together on this island in the spirit of reconciliation.”

Mr Martin was speaking after a busy day of engagements.

His first stop off was a meeting at the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Chambers Ireland to discuss the current climate agenda, as well as the upcoming COP26 and the importance of protecting biodiversity in both Northern Ireland and the Republic with cross-border projects.

He said that it is “no exaggeration to say that the topic and the timing could not be more important.”

“The impact of climate change will be felt by every individual, household, business and community on this island. It is no longer something that can be assigned to some distant future,” said Mr Martin.

“The next ten years are vital if we are to address the climate crisis and ensure a safe and bright future for us all.

“This is why the COP26 Summit in Glasgow next month will be so important and why Ireland will be participating fully. Translating the science and the urgency of the climate and biodiversity crisis into policy and action is key and this will provide a critical forum.”

He then visited a women’s centre in North Belfast, the first visit of its kind for Mr Martin in his role as Taoiseach.

There, he spoke with women and girls who benefit from courses and training provided by Women’s Tec, the largest provider of training for women in non-traditional skills in Northern Ireland.

During his time at the centre he tried his hand at learning how to drill a bird box with one of the Year 10 pupils from Trinity College Belfast who took park in Women’s Tec’s ‘Not Just for Boys’ summer scheme program.

This programme taught young girls a variety of heritage skills such as joinery and plastering to encourage more women to enter the trade professions.

Mr Martin then got some ‘hands-on’ practice with the women from the ‘Time for Me’ group at Women’s Tec who showed him how to plaster cast his hand.

Lynn Carvill, CEO of Women’s Tec, said: “Over the past 18 months, we have seen the needs of women in our communities rise significantly and we have been working hard to address these needs and help women to succeed in all areas of their lives.

“An Taoiseach’s visit today will help us shine a spotlight on the important work we do at Women’s Tec.

“We’re delighted to welcome him to our building and are grateful for the opportunity to showcase what we do here.”

He finished off his visit there by witnessing first-hand the benefits of the on-site creche for all the local women and admiring their very own Suffragette-themed garden.

Mr Martin said that he then had a “very interesting” visit to the cancer research centre at Queen’s University Belfast on Thursday afternoon where he witnessed some of the “first-class projects” they are undertaking there.

“We then had a broader discussion with the Queen’s University’s authorities in respect of the shared island initiative on research,” he said.

“Through this there is great possibilities in terms of developing all-island research for projects so we can help solve problems and contribute to the solutions of problems which the island faces, be it climate change, be it cancer, be it other areas of health, be it infectious diseases, be it cyber security.”


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