Northern Ireland MPs from across the political spectrum attend the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II
In keeping with the new detente between Sinn Fein and the Royal Family, the party had two representatives at the funeral at Westminster Abbey.
Only one, Prime Minister-in-waiting Michelle O’Neill, was officially there to represent the party, with Alex Maskey present as Speaker of the Assembly – a politically neutral role he did not expect to last as long, having retired. as an MP in the May election, but remaining in office because the DUP blocked the appointment of a new president.
Nevertheless, the presence of the Republican veteran, interned by the armed forces of the late Her Majesty in a prison where he was detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure, would have been unthinkable until a few years ago.
The service order incorrectly referred to the ‘Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland’, even though there has been no Deputy First Minister since the DUP collapsed at Stormont in February.
Alongside the two Republicans was a less surprising cast of senior Northern Ireland politicians. Alliance leader Naomi Long, who had visited the Queen in state last week, was there with SDLP leader Colum Eastwood – whose party has previously come under attack from Sinn Fein for attending such events.
Mr Eastwood said yesterday: ‘The Queen has been pushing hard for our peace process. It is important that we do the same to show respect to her and to all those for whom she held a special place in their hearts.
The two union representatives – DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and UUP leader Doug Beattie – have much closer ties to the Queen. As Privy Councillor, Sir Jeffrey was part of the body of senior politicians and others who formally advise the Queen and in this capacity was present at the Council of Accession at which King Charles was sworn in .
Mr. Beattie was awarded the Military Cross, one of the highest honors for gallantry, for his conduct in combat in Afghanistan during the Queen’s reign.
The six Northern Ireland politicians sat together in a prominent section of the Abbey, just behind the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon, Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey and Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer.
The Republic was represented by Irish President Michael D Higgins and his wife, and Taoiseach Micheal Martin, who both attended the memorial service in St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast last week.
Among the other Northern Irish guests at the funeral were the Grand Secretary of the Orange Order, the Reverend Mervyn Gibson and Patricia Donnelly, who led the Covid vaccination programme.
There were also four clergymen from Northern Ireland – Catholic Primate Eamon Martin, Church of Ireland Primate John McDowell, Presbyterian Moderator Reverend John Kirkpatrick and Methodist President Reverend David Nixon, although None of them participated in the service.
However, one of the clerics listed on the order of service as being present was not seated with the other church leaders.
It was unclear whether the Reverend Ian Brown, chief minister of the Martyrs Memorial Free Presbyterian Church, founded by the late DUP leader Ian Paisley, had come to the service as planned.
Irishman Fergal Keane, one of the BBC’s most respected foreign correspondents, commented on the service, stressing for viewers the importance of the Queen’s role in reconciliation, “particularly in Northern Ireland, where her presence, his influence contributed to a negotiated peace”. .
He reminded viewers that the Queen had attended the Abbey for her wedding in 1947, her coronation in 1953 and for royal weddings and funerals, “all, as with her own funeral today, being part of recurring seasons of death and renewal”.