Prime Minister Boris Johnson will be among the dignitaries attending a church service in Armagh today (Thursday) to mark the partition of Ireland and the centenary of the formation of Northern Ireland.
Yesterday, Buckingham Palace announced the Queen would not be attending as planned, after taking medical advice to rest for the next few days.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney will be representing the Irish government and there will also be representatives from the Northern Ireland Office and from a number of political parties.
The Service of Reflection and Hope is being held in St Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral at 11am, and will be broadcast live on BBC and RTÉ.
Security is expected to be tight and police are asking motorists to avoid the city centre. They have also said parking will be limited.
The service has been organised by the Church Leaders’ Group (Ireland), which comprises Ireland’s five main Christian churches.
In a statement, the group said it was very sorry to learn that it would not be possible for Her Majesty to attend the service.
“We wish to convey to Her Majesty our good wishes and, in doing so, to acknowledge the significance of her commitment to the work of peace and reconciliation, which has meant a great deal to people throughout this island,” they said.
“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 service attracted controversy after Irish president Michael D Higgins declined an invitation to attend, saying it had become politicised.
However, writing in an article for The Irish Times on Tuesday, which was posted on his Twitter account, the Catholic Archbishop of Armagh Dr Eamon Martin explained the background to the service.
He said: “At the beginning of 2021, I shared with my brothers and sisters in the other Christian churches that I could not think of “celebrating” the centenary of the foundation of Northern Ireland and the partition of Ireland.
“At the same time, we felt it was important for us to do something together this year in a spirit of prayer and friendship to emphasise our common Christian commitment to peace, healing and reconciliation.
“This week’s Christian act of worship will involve people from across the community – from diverse backgrounds and traditions, and with different beliefs and aspirations – coming together to pray for the healing of past hurts and to seek God’s guidance in a spirit of hope for the future.
“It was in this spirit that the church leaders put together the centenary service and invited various representatives and leaders to join us in prayer, in lament for past failures and in hope for a better and more reconciled future.”