Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Historic day as Sinn Fein mayor attends Armistice Day ceremony in Belfast

Armistice Day Service at the Cenotaph in the grounds of the City Hall in Belfast. Sinn Fein Lord Mayor Mairtin O Muilleoir (centre)
Armistice Day Service at the Cenotaph in the grounds of the City Hall in Belfast. Sinn Fein Lord Mayor Mairtin O Muilleoir (centre)
War veterans at the Remembrance Day ceremony at the cenotaph in the grounds of Belfast City Hall

Sinn Fein's Lord Mayor has attended the Armistice Day ceremony in Belfast for the first time in the party's history, writes Anna Maguire.

Mairtin O Muilleoir broke with tradition and took part in this morning's ceremony, which marks the time of the end of the First World War.

Mr O Muilleoir's predecessors have never attended any of the Remembrance Day events, instead paying their respects prior to the annual ceremonies. Former Sinn Fein mayor, Niall O Donnghaile, was represented by then deputy lord mayor, Ruth Patterson, at the Armistice Day ceremony two years ago.

Mairtin O Muilleoir will join Mervyn Elder, president of the Royal British Legion which organises the annual event, and Belfast City Council's chief executive, in a two-minute silence to mark the end of fighting in the Great War.

His historic presence at the remembrance ceremony follows 10 months of talks between Mr Muilleoir and the Royal British Legion's Belfast branch.

Members of the public gather every year at Belfast City Hall's Garden of Remembrance to remember those who died in the First World War.

Jim McVeigh, Sinn Fein leader on Belfast City Council, said it was a significant step by the party and the lord mayor in a bid to reach out to the unionist community.

Asked if this was the first time that a Sinn Fein representative has attended an Armistice Day ceremony, he said: "Yes. The difference is in the past we went round early and laid our own wreath.

"But Mairtin will be participating in the ceremony.

"Certainly this is a significant change in our position."

The Royal British Legion's Belfast branch declined to comment yesterday.

In July, Mr O Muilleoir laid a laurel wreath at Belfast's cenotaph prior to a commemoration of the Battle of the Somme – in line with party policy. However, the south Belfast Sinn Fein councillor supported the Royal British Legion – which is one of his official charities – in its bid last year to illuminate Belfast City Hall red to promote the Remembrance Day poppy appeal.

He also added William Conor's painting of Orange Order members parading (The Orangemen 1918) to the collection in the Lord Mayor's parlour.

Jim McVeigh, whose great uncle was killed during the Battle of the Somme, said any potential protests opposing Mr O Muilleoir's presence at this morning's ceremony would be a shame.

In August, Mr O Muilleoir was jostled and heckled by loyalist protesters at the reopening of a park in the Woodvale district of north Belfast.

Mr O Muilleoir later said that he would continue to represent everyone – which has been the theme for his time in the mayor's office – and reiterated that there would be no 'no-go' areas.

BACKGROUND

Armistice Day commemorates the end of WW1 with the signing of the armistice between the Allies and Germany in France. The annual event also honours the British armed forces. In September, the SDLP challenged Belfast's Sinn Fein Lord Mayor Mairtin O Muilleoir to attend the annual Remembrance Sunday service. Mr O Muilleoir was in America during yesterday's Remembrance ceremony but will take part in this morning's – a significant step, said Jim McVeigh, the party's leader on Belfast City Council. In September, Mr O Muilleoir said he could not wear the poppy, in remembrance of those who died.

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