Belfast City Hall row over tribute to two murdered corporals
Unionists are furious after a motion offering assurances to the families of two corporals brutally murdered by the IRA 25 years ago that their bravery and sacrifice "will never be forgotten" was not backed by Belfast City Council.
The heated row erupted on Wednesday night during the full council meeting, leading to a split in the chamber and the Alliance Party being branded "a disgrace" by the DUP.
The DUP's Ruth Patterson had put forward the motion to mark the 25th anniversary of the murders of Corporals Derek Woods and David Howes, whose deaths provided some of the most harrowing images of the Troubles.
It asked the council to "extend to the families of these victims the assurance that the bravery, restraint and sacrifice of their beloved sons on that day will never be forgotten".
Addressing the chamber, Ms Patterson said that on behalf of Belfast City Council and all right- thinking people in Northern Ireland, the families of the corporals should receive an apology.
"The callous nature, televised torture and public execution of David Howes and Derek Wood struck a particular note of horror with all right-thinking people," she said.
"The haunting photos of their motionless, almost naked and bloody bodies lying on the ground at Penny Lane gruesomely tells the tale of what these two brave young men had to endure before they died.
"Each and everyone who gave their life for Queen and country in Northern Ireland deserve our gratitude and remembrance."
Alliance, however, put forward an amendment that recognised all victims over 40 years.
It said: "Recognising the terrible events of the last 40 years including those of 25 years ago reaffirms council's commitment to a shared future and reaffirms our total and absolute commitment to exclusively democratic and peaceful means of resolving differences and our opposition to any use or threat of force by others for any political purpose."
It was supported by Sinn Fein and the SDLP benches and passed 27 votes for and 17 against. Alliance's Mervyn Jones, who put forward the motion, explained: "There have been so many despicable incidents over the years and I think we need to deal with them all.
"It is not in anyway an attack on the two soldiers or an attempt to denigrate what happened.
"Unfortunately, our history means that barely a month passes without an anniversary of some incident arising from the Troubles. I hope the motion can cover all such anniversaries."
Sinn Fein's Jim McVeigh said it was important to remember all the victims.
"Over the course of 14 days back in March 1988, nine people, not two, lost their lives," he said.
"We have no problem whatsoever acknowledging the courage, decency of these two British soldiers, but each and every one of the nine people who lost their lives over that tragic fortnight were decent.
"This motion ignores that sacrifice and ignores those families."
But the DUP's Christopher Stalford said he was outraged and said the amendment drew no distinction between "law-abiding citizens, or those who served in the security forces and those who engaged in illegal terrorist activity; there is clearly a moral as well as a legal distinction".
He added: "It is a disgrace that this council couldn't find it within itself to say the murder of two soldiers was wrong and the party that put that amendment should be ashamed of themselves.
"When a party cannot condemn the murder of two soldiers and salute their memory, they have seriously lost their way."