Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

O Donnghaile lays Somme wreath

Belfast mayor Niall O Donnghaile lays a wreath at the Somme memorial

Sinn Fein would consider attending future official war remembrance events in Belfast if changes were made to the current format, the party's lord mayor has pledged.

Niall O Donnghaile said republicans would not rule out the move as he laid a laurel wreath at the Somme memorial in a separate ceremony ahead of the main anniversary commemoration.

Following a tradition established by former Sinn Fein mayors Alex Maskey and Tom Hartley, Mr O Donnghaile, 26, paid his respects with party colleagues at the City Hall cenotaph in a low key event on Friday morning, two hours before the event organised by the British Legion to mark the first day of the 1916 battle.

Belfast's youngest ever mayor insisted his decision did not run contrary to his pledge to be a mayor for all the city and claimed the official commemoration was too politicised.

"I think even the most begrudging of unionists would appreciate the fact that for an Irish republican mayor this (lying the laurel wreath) is quite a significant step to take and I hope that does resonate with the unionist citizens of Belfast, that we are determined to remember in a civic and appropriate way all of those differing men who gave their lives at the Somme," he said.

But he indicated if changes were made to the main event, future Sinn Fein mayors may attend.

"There would be a number of issues that would have to change at this point, primarily the issue of remembrance should be a civic one as opposed to being a political one," he said. "But that's something that we can look at, that's something that needs to be looked at I suppose in the time ahead, and Sinn Fein I don't think ever rules anything out."

Former mayor councillor Hartley was among Mr O Donnghaile's party colleagues who walked with him from the City Hall to the steps of the cenotaph.

The mayor, wearing his chain of office, then stood forward and laid the wreath at the foot of the monument. He paused for a moment of silent reflection before joining his fellow councillors for another period of silence.

Moments after they left the remembrance garden the first military personnel started to arrive in preparation for the main commemoration.

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