Belfast Telegraph

Belfast mayor sorry for cadet snub

By Lesley-Anne McKeown

Belfast's Lord Mayor has declined to say whether or not he would repeat his snub to a young Army Cadet.

Niall O Donnghaile, who was forced to apologise for refusing to present a 15-year-old girl with her Duke of Edinburgh's award at a prize-giving ceremony, repeatedly dodged questions asking him to explain what he was apologising for at a council meeting last night.

Outside City Hall around 200 loyalists staged a protest demanding Mr O Donnghaile's resignation while inside the chamber, the 26-year-old was subjected to a series of scathing attacks from furious unionists during a debate which lasted more than an hour-and-a-half.

Political opponents took swipes, accusing the Sinn Fein man of being insensitive and inexperienced.

PUP councillor Hugh Smyth said: "Whilst I am happy the apology has been made, I am not too sure it goes far enough.

"What's to say if in a month a situation arises again? Are you going to give us a guarantee that you are going to be able to carry out your duties with the dignity that a Lord Mayor should?"

The DUP's Christopher Stalford branded the Mayor's apology a "classic politician's apology" surrounded by so many caveats it was rendered "meaningless".

"I don't think it would kill you as First Citizen of this city to say, 'I was wrong, it will never happen again and there will be no repeat of it'," he told the chamber.

The DUP Deputy Lord Mayor, Ruth Patterson, who was accused of snubbing Mr O Donnghaile after his election in June, said: "Given my own service in the Ulster Defence Regiment I am actually surprised that you would sit beside me. I am a member of the British army and am a very proud Ulster Protestant. You are a young man and you have a lot to learn. Live it and learn it Lord Mayor. This will not go away."

In a statement issued ahead of last night's meeting, Mr O Donnghaile said he had a proven track record of reaching out to all communities.

He said: "I accept that my decision not to present an award to a British Army Cadet has caused genuine annoyance. I apologise to anyone who has been offended and in particular the young woman involved and her family. That was clearly never my intention."

The Alliance Party and SDLP both heaped criticism on the Mayor but stopped short of demanding he step down.

A special meeting of Belfast City Council has been called for Monday to discuss the matter further.

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