The Taoiseach has said that he respects President Michael D Higgins' decision to not attend a Northern Ireland Centenary Church service next month.

President Higgins has defended his decision not to attend the service in Armagh and does not intend to revisit the decision, a spokesman has said.

The service has been titled as 'marking the centenaries of the partition of Ireland and the foundation of Northern Ireland', and will also be attended by Britain's Queen Elizabeth.

Mr Higgins said the title of the event made it inappropriate for him to attend as it marked the centenaries of the partition of Ireland and the formation of Northern Ireland.

"I respect the President's decision and I understand where the President is coming from," Taoiseach Micheál Martin said.

"I think he has articulated it and he has given his reasons. I will also say that we know that the President has really given a lot of time to commemoration and has taken it really seriously.

"He has a long-standing commitment to peace and reconciliation on the island."

Mr Martin said the relationship between the UK and Ireland has been transformed in the last 30 years and the President's decision will not harm the relationship in any way.

He added that the Government has not received an invitation to the event as of yet, but said that if one does arrive, it will be given consideration.

Former taoiseach John Bruton has said that the clarification that President Higgins did consult the Government on the Armagh invitation has, in his view, satisfied the provisions of the Constitution.

However, he said he still believes the President should attend the event as it would be "a valuable opportunity to recognise the present constitutional realities, while pointing the way to a more hopeful future."

Mr Bruton had said earlier today that the President should have been given clear advice and had gone off on a "solo run". President Higgins said he "is wrong in his interpretation of the Constitution".

"I'm the President of Ireland, that's the constitutional position, the legal position."


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Earlier today, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has confirmed that his department was consulted about the invitation for President Michael D Higgins to attend the event, but said it did not "give any clear advice".

Mr Coveney was speaking in Belfast before attending an event this afternoon, called 'On These Steps', at the Presbyterian Church in Ireland's Union Theological College, which 100 years ago became the first home of the parliament of Northern Ireland.

Confirming that his department had been consulted about the Armagh service, he said the President alone made the decision not to attend the event.

Simon Coveney said the President alone made the decision not to attend the event

"My department would would be involved with consultations with Áras an Uachtaráin and the President's team regularly on a lot of things," he said.

"We didn't give any clear advice to the President in relation to this particular event, I think it's quite clear from the statements that the President has made in relation to it that he made his own decision.

"He is the head of State, he is entitled to make his own decisions on his own diary and the events that he attends, and I think he's answered for himself on that."

Mr Coveney had said he had not heard Mr Bruton's earlier remarks, adding: "I'm also not going to second guess the decisions of the President of Ireland, he makes his own decisions, and he makes his own judgement calls and I respect that."

Asked would he accept an invitation to attend the event in Armagh next month, Mr Coveney said: "The Irish Government hasn't received an invitation to the event that you refer to, but if we do receive an invitation, of course we'll give it serious consideration."

The minister has been in Northern Ireland since last night for a series of meetings with Stormont's political leaders.

He attended a service this afternoon organised by the Presbyterian Church to mark the creation of Northern Ireland 100 years ago.