Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the DUP leader, has criticised the Irish president, Michael Higgins, for deciding not to attend a church service in Armagh next month to mark the centenary of partition and the creation of Northern Ireland.

The Queen is attending, but Higgins has said that the title of the event – saying it will “mark the centenaries of the partition of Ireland and the formation of Northern Ireland” – made it political. He also objected to being referred to in the invitation as president of the Republic of Ireland, not president of Ireland.

Donaldson told Radio Ulster this morning:

The president has made his position clear but I have to say I’m very surprised – I really thought that the president would have risen above the politics of all of this.

He uses language that, I think, is unfortunately retrograde. He talks about being the president of Ireland, not the president of the Republic of Ireland, despite the fact that people voted to remove the territorial claim over Northern Ireland and that there was recognition in the constitution of the Republic of Ireland of the existence of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom.

I think the language used by the president is not forward-looking and doesn’t recognise the reality that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. It’s back to the old days when the president believes that he is president of the whole island, which we all know he is not.

I have to say that the comments made by President Higgins really are not conducive towards reconciliation.