N. Ireland Politics

Armistice Day: National anthem singing at Stormont remembrance service a 'childish stunt', Sinn Féin says

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Media captionMartin McGuinness (second left) and Theresa Villiers (right) attended the remembrance event

A rendition of the national anthem at an act of remembrance service at Stormont was a "childish stunt", a Sinn Féin MLA has said.

Politicians attended a ceremony in Parliament Buildings to mark Armistice Day on Wednesday morning.

The national anthem was not on the event's order of service, but the Traditional Unionist Voice's (TUV) press officer began the singing.

Unionists denied the singing at the end of the event was politically-motivated.

Sinn Féin's Carál Ní Chuilín attended the service along with her party colleague Martin McGuinness, the deputy first minister.

Image caption Carál Ní Chuilín said some unionists started singing the anthem "to embarrass those in attendance"

She said a "small group of unionists" started singing "in an attempt to embarrass those in attendance".

Disrespected

The service had been "respectful and inclusive", she said, but some unionists "chose to disrespect the spirit of the event" with the unannounced singing of the national anthem.

"The event itself, led by assembly speaker Mitchel McLaughlin, received wide support from right across the political spectrum," Ms Ní Chuilín said.

"I welcome the fact that other unionist representatives came to me to express their anger and disappointment at how the civic remembrance event had been disrespected."

Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt approached Mr McGuinness after the event and said he was sorry for what he told the deputy first minister was a "stunt".

Image caption Mike Nesbitt said the singing had left some nationalists feeling "uncomfortable and embarrassed"

Later, he said it was "highly regrettable" that some nationalists felt "ambushed" by the singing of the anthem.

"The national anthem should be part of the ceremony, but everybody should know and it should be part of the running order," Mr Nesbitt said.

Reconsider

"Today it was clear that the close of the ceremony left some people feeling very uncomfortable.

"I don't think it's good that people feel embarrassed - I wouldn't want that to happen to me."

The TUV's Sammy Morrison was the person who began the singing.

Image caption Sammy Morrison said the singing had not been an attempt to embarrass Sinn Féin members

He said Sinn Féin should reconsider attending remembrance events if they had an issue with the singing of the national anthem.

"I've been attending the act of remembrance every year since my boss, Jim Allister, was elected to Stormont in 2011.

"This is the first year it didn't appear on the order of service. I didn't see why it was left off.

Spontaneous

"It was sung every other year - nobody that attended those events in the past was offended by it, I don't see why anybody should be offended by it this year.

"The vast, vast majority of people who attended obviously felt we should have been singing the national anthem as well because they joined in with me."

Image caption Stormont's Parliament Buildings were illuminated in red as part of the events to mark Armistice Day

Democratic Unionist Party MLA Peter Weir said the singing had not been "a stunt or a politically-motivated gesture".

"There is an annual act of remembrance within Parliament Buildings, which usually closes with the singing of the national anthem," he said.

"Those of us who participated in the spontaneous singing this year did because it is normal for the anthem to be sung at such events."

"To avoid any confusion in future it would perhaps be beneficial if the national anthem was again placed on the order of service next year."