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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 February 2006, 22:25 GMT
Hain under fire over royal salute
The salute will mark the anniversary of the accession to the throne
The salute will mark the anniversary of the accession to the throne
The Northern Ireland secretary has been criticised for holding a 21-gun salute to the Queen in a disused car park.

The salute in the docks area next Monday marks the 54th anniversary of the Queen's accession to the throne.

Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey said the venue was both "degrading and downgrading" and urged Peter Hain to find a more suitable location.

However, the NIO said the event had to be moved from Hillsborough Castle as it was hosting political talks.

It said the castle could not house both the talks and a civic reception accompanying the salute.

The salute will take place beside World War 1 light cruiser HMS Caroline, which is now used for training purposes.

But Sir Reg said he had been touch with the secretary of state's office asking for a "more fitting and appropriate venue to be found for the salute in honour of our sovereign".

Sir Reg said the Queen's accession would be marked with 21-gun salutes throughout the UK.

"In London it will be in Hyde Park, in Edinburgh and Cardiff at the cities' castles," he said.

"In the fourth capital, due to the political talks taking place in Hillsborough Castle, the salute will take place in a disused car park in the docks beside HMS Caroline."

Peter Hain
Mr Hain has been urged to change the venue

Sir Reg said the salute used to take place on the lawns outside Stormont Parliament Building but was moved to Hillsborough in 1999 to avoid "offending" Sinn Fein.

"No doubt it has been moved again for the same reason," he added.

DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said he was outraged at the decision.

"This decision has been made to facilitate talks at Hillsborough Castle and demonstrates a lack of respect for those who hold Her Majesty in high regard," he said.

"Marking the Queens 80th birthday in a car park adjacent to HMS Caroline is completely inappropriate.

"The DUP will be lodging a formal protest with the secretary of state about this matter and he would be well advised to stop tampering around with a tribute to Her Majesty The Queen for the sake of a few political meetings."

The Northern Ireland Office insisted the event had not been moved away from Hillsborough for Sinn Fein's benefit.

Mr Hain said the siting of the salute beside the World War 1 ship was a "fitting and proper way to mark the occasion".

HMS Caroline would also provide an "excellent venue" for the civic reception - this year being held for the Fire Service, he added.




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