‘It’s a slap in the face’: Mounting fury at decision to invite China envoy who destroyed Hong Kong democracy and Sinn Fein boss with links to IRA to King Charles’ coronation – while snubbing the late Queen’s bridesmaid Lady Pamela Hicks
- Michelle O’Neill branded a hypocrite for saying she would attend the Coronation
- Tories branded it ‘outrageous’ that Chinese vice-president Han Zheng is invited
The incendiary guest list for the Coronation was branded a ‘slap in the face’ today by critics who erupted with fury after Sinn Fein’s leader and a Chinese official who oversaw a civil liberties crackdown in Hong Kong were invited.
Michelle O’Neill, Sinn Fein’s deputy president and leader in Northern Ireland, was branded a hypocrite for saying she would attend. Her republican party has been accused of preventing Unionists from celebrating the historic occasion in Ulster.
Sinn Fein MPs elected to Westminster refuse to take their seats or take an oath to the British monarch, yet Ms O’Neill says she will be in London on May 6 to see Charles crowned and help to ‘build good relations between the people of these islands’.
And Tory China hawks led by former party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith branded it ‘outrageous’ that Chinese vice-president Han Zheng is also on the King’s guest list. Mr Han dealt with Hong Kong affairs on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party and proposed the controversial extradition bill which sparked widespread protests in the territory.
By contrast, Lady Pamela Hicks, a bridesmaid to the late Queen whose father Lord Mountbatten was murdered by the IRA – of which Ms O’Neill’s party was the political wing throughout the Troubles – has been left off the Coronation guest list.
Mark Clifford, president of the Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong Foundation, said that it was a ‘slap in the face’ for Britain, accusing Zheng of ‘destroying one of the freest and most prosperous cities in Asia’.
Michelle O’Neill, Sinn Fein’s deputy president and leader in Northern Ireland, was branded a hypocrite for saying she would attend
Chinese vice-president Han Zheng is also on the King’s guest list. Mr Han dealt with Hong Kong affairs on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party and proposed the controversial extradition bill which sparked widespread protests in the territory
He told The Times: ‘There are over 1,400 political prisoners in Hong Kong today compared to none when Han Zheng took over the role to oversee Hong Kong in 2018. This should give the British government pause about inviting a man with this record of destruction to the coronation.’
He said: ‘Han Zheng has been a key player in the suppression of Hong Kong’s freedoms.’
Ms O’Neill, who attended the Queen’s funeral in September, said she had accepted the invitation on behalf of the people in Northern Ireland ‘for whom the Coronation is a hugely important occasion’.
But it sparked a backlash among Unionists, who said they were being prevented from celebrating by nationalist-controlled councils in Ulster. DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said: ‘While the decision has been made by Sinn Fein to recognise the monarchy, we nevertheless need to see attendance at such events also translated into a recognition that in Northern Ireland there are many who want to celebrate.
‘But where Sinn Fein controls local councils, they are unwilling to support celebrations in the way they’re happening across the UK.’
DUP MP Sammy Wilson said Ms O’Neill’s attendance was ‘for the international cameras’, adding: ‘But at the same time they make sure they remain true to form back here in Northern Ireland where there’s no media spotlight and where [Sinn Fein] local councils just continue their anti-British, anti-royal stance to please their grassroots.’
Former Labour minister Baroness Hoey said: ‘My issue with it is that in a lot of the nationalist Sinn Fein-controlled councils in Northern Ireland, they have refused any kind of support for the Coronation, any celebrations, street parties, any of that in their areas.
‘So it seems a little hypocritical that she is going off to wine and dine, colloquially speaking.’
Ms O’Neill’s attendance at the Coronation in Westminster Abbey on Saturday, May 6, will be seen as highly controversial.
Lady Pamela Hicks, a bridesmaid to the late Queen whose father Lord Mountbatten was murdered by the IRA has been left off the Coronation guest list
She would be in line to become Northern Ireland’s First Minister if the current power-sharing impasse at Stormont, caused by disagreements over the post-Brexit trading arrangements governing the province, is resolved and devolution returns in Belfast. It is for this reason she will have been invited, based on government advice.
Sinn Fein’s Assembly speaker Alex Maskey, who spent two years in internment in the 1970s, has also accepted an invitation to the Coronation. Sinn Fein was the political wing of the IRA, which murdered Lord Mountbatten – King Charles’s mentor – in a 1979 bomb attack.
The decision to attend is the latest signal of the greatly improved relations between the republican movement and the monarchy since the start of the peace process in Northern Ireland.
The attendance of Mr Han, who was recently appointed by Chinese president Xi Jinping as his deputy, triggered cross-party anger a day after Foreign Secretary James Cleverly called for a more constructive relationship with China.
Tory China hawks led by former party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith branded it ‘outrageous’ that Mr Han is invited
Sir Iain said: ‘This is the man responsible for trashing the international treaty, the Sino-British Accord, in the course of which the Hong Kong authorities have persecuted peaceful democracy campaigners. Having this man here, given his role, is outrageous.’
Former levelling up secretary Simon Clarke added: ‘China is a strategic adversary of the United Kingdom. She is working to undermine democracies the world over, including on UK soil.’
A Labour official said it was ‘disappointing’ that someone ‘so intimately involved in ongoing human rights violations in Hong Kong’ would be attending the Coronation. Hong Kong was rocked by demonstrations in 2019 and 2020 – when Mr Han headed up the Central Leading Group on Hong Kong – following the introduction of extradition legislation.
The authorities were criticised for the heavy-handed nature of their crackdown on protesters, which were backed by Mr Han.
The decision to invite Ms O’Neill and Mr Han to the Coronation was made by the Government and not Buckingham Palace. By contrast, Lady Pamela would have been a personal guest of the Royal Family. One of the King’s personal secretaries phoned Lady Pamela to apologise, explaining that there was not enough room for everyone.
Who is Michelle O’Neill, the Sinn Fein leader with links to the IRA invited to King Charles’ Coronation?
By Sam Greenhill, Chief Reporter for the Daily Mail
When she took over from Martin McGuinness as the new face of Sinn Fein, Michelle O’Neill was hailed as a clean break from the republican movement’s blood-soaked old guard.
With her loud outfits, blonde hair and bright lipstick, and an avowed devotion to the peace process, she was held up as a modern leader for the post-ceasefire generation.
Ms O’Neill, 46, was not born until five years after Bloody Sunday. And yet there is no getting away from the fact that she grew up in an IRA family.
She reveres her late father Brendan Doris as ‘a brilliant man’ and ‘the one involved in politics – he was the one I followed’.
With her loud outfits, blonde hair and bright lipstick, and an avowed devotion to the peace process, Ms O’Neill was held up as a modern leader for the post-ceasefire generation
But while roofer Mr Doris was a local councillor in Dungannon, Co Tyrone, in the Nineties, it was his membership of the IRA’s East Tyrone Brigade in the Seventies that led to him being interned.
The brigade was known locally as the ‘A Team’, one of the IRA’s most professional and effective units, killing dozens in a bombing campaign on Army bases and police stations.
Ms O’Neill’s cousin Tony Doris, 21, was a part of a brigade ‘death squad’ preparing to assassinate a high-ranking member of the security forces in 1991 when they were ambushed by the SAS. His headstone states he was ‘Killed on Active Service’.
Another cousin, Gareth Doris, was part of a cell that hurled a device packed with explosives at a police base in Co Tyrone in 1997. The 19-year-old was shot by anti-terrorist officers, but survived.
On Ms O’Neill’s first day in the job, she made a rare public relations slip when she expressed empathy for four IRA men who had been shot dead by British troops in her home village of Clonoe in Co Tyrone in the early Nineties.
Critics mocked up a photograph of a ‘miniature’ Ms O’Neill in Gerry Adams’ pocket. Adams – who has always denied having been a senior IRA commander – and McGuinness, who was IRA second-in-command in Londonderry on Bloody Sunday in 1972, were among Ms O’Neill’s political mentors.
Last year Ms O’Neill was condemned for saying there had been ‘no alternative’ to IRA violence during the Troubles.
She added that ‘thankfully, we have an alternative to conflict and that’s the Good Friday Agreement’, and said: ‘My whole adult life has been building the peace process.’
Attending the King’s Coronation, she insists, is part of that.
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