Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Belfast's Sinn Fein Mayor ready to embrace Armistice Day and royal visitors

Mairtin O Muilleoir in Belfast City Hall

The Lord Mayor of Belfast is in talks with the Royal British Legion to create a Remembrance Day event he would feel comfortable attending.

Sinn Fein's Mairtin O Muilleoir said he intended keeping a copy of the 1916 Proclamation of an Irish Republic alongside signed photographs of the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and the late Queen Mother in the Lord Mayor's parlour during his year in office.

He added that he would "very seriously consider" any invitation to meet a member of the royal family as Lord Mayor.

Mr O Muilleoir made his comments in an interview with Martin O'Brien, a former BBC religious affairs producer, in the Irish Catholic newspaper, which is published today.

Niall O Donnghaile, the last Sinn Fein first citizen of Belfast, attracted unionist criticism when he removed royal portraits from the parlour, and avoided using the term Lord Mayor or Royal British Legion. That is something Mr O Muilleoir won't be following.

"The correct title is Lord Mayor and you should treat people as you would wish to be treated. There are people in this city who revere these titles and why would we poke them in the eye with a stick?" he said. Mr O Muilleoir, who assumed office on June 3, stressed he was "not a Sinn Fein Lord Mayor" but one for the whole city. "Are unionists to believe in this new society we are trying to create there is to be no observance of all the things they hold dear? That all the titles they had, all the portraits they had, that this new society holds that from them? That, for me, would not be a good idea," he said.

In the past Sinn Fein Lord Mayors did not attend Remembrance Day events, but Mr O Muilleoir is reviewing the policy. He said he was already in discussion with the Royal British Legion to create a Remembrance Day event he could attend "and I travel in hope believing politics is the art of the possible".

He defended the decision to limit the flying of the Union flag on Belfast City Hall, but conceded "it caused hurt to a large swathe of ordinary Protestants... I think everyone here has learned a lot from it".

The windows of his family home were smashed by republicans in the 1970s. It happened after his parents, Bridie and Sammy Millar, started a peace movement after an IRA gunman killed his mother's friend, Martha Crawford, while firing at the Army.

Although he later sympathised with the IRA himself, he believes his parents were "absolutely right".

"How could any parent support guerrilla warfare in an urban area? We knew so many people who ended up dead," he said.

"No, I wouldn't say the campaign was wrong. I absolutely regret we ended up in a 30-year cycle of violence... I think when you take up arms it can lead you to all sorts of places where you don't want to be."

His attitude to the Catholic Church is equally complex. He criticises Church leaders who, he claimed, failed to "speak truth to power" during the Troubles.

He attended Sunday Mass for the first time in 30 years when he accompanied his 84-year-old mother to St Agnes' Church after he was elected. He said he was amazed the church, which had been packed the last time he attended, was only about 20% full.

He did not take Communion but he said it was stupid to "dismiss the good of the Church". He also praised the peace mission of priests at Clonard Monastry.

FACTFILE

Mairtin O Muilleoir (53) became Lord Mayor of Belfast last month. He is the 58th person, and the third Sinn Fein member, to hold the post. A self-made businessman from Andersonstown, he owns the Belfast Media Group which controls papers including the Andersonstown News and the Irish Echo in New York. He had been a councillor from 1987-97 and returned to politics in 2011 to represent Balmoral. He is an Irish speaker and a prominent language enthusiast.

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