Belfast Telegraph

I'll not be wearing my chain, insists Sinn Fein mayor criticised over 1916 event

By Brett Campbell

A Sinn Fein Lord Mayor has defended his decision to speak at an Easter Rising commemoration in Co Armagh.

An image of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Lord Mayor Garath Keating is featured on a poster advertising the Easter Sunday event.

It has angered unionists, who claimed his presence will undermine the public office they say should be inclusive and represent the entire borough.

After taking up the post last summer Mr Keating pledged that during his term he hoped to meet as many sections of the community as possible, saying the role had the capacity to bring people together.

Last night Mr Keating said his picture had been used in error, and that he would not be attending the ceremony in his capacity as the borough's first citizen.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph from Washington, Mr Keating said: "I'm going as a private citizen.

"It's an event that I have attended and spoken at for the last five years.

"It was a mistake for the organisers to have used a picture of me as the Lord Mayor."

Mr Keating said he'd already been in touch with the organisers to make them aware that they should not have used that image.

"It's a dignified, small respectful event commemorating 1916," he added. "As Lord Mayor I have attended commemorative events for the Holocaust, World War II, and have attended the Somme commemoration.

"I have always been very respectful and courteous to all traditions.

"Given the sensitivities around this particular event, I decided not to attend in my capacity as Lord Mayor."

DUP councillor Mark Baxter argued Mr Keating's presence at the commemoration was inappropriate.

"The unionist community will be both disgusted and enraged at the sight of the latest propaganda poster of Lord Mayor Garath Keating attending and speaking at such an event," he said.

"The privileged role of the office of Lord Mayor is one that should be respected and carried out with a degree of decorum and dignity."

Mr Baxter said the community will never forget the horrific acts of brutality carried out by the Provisional IRA - and others - and how they witnessed family and friends being murdered and maimed.

"To eulogise those who carried out such acts is a total insult to the community and to do it while apparently representing everyone is grotesque in the extreme," he claimed.

Mr Baxter accused the Lord Mayor of showing "scant regard" for the office and said his tenure had been tainted by his public glorification of terrorism.

The online flyer invites people to meet at Ballymacnab Hall at 12.30pm to join the parade to the republican plot in the village to remember all those who have given their lives in the pursuit of Irish freedom.

Sinn Fein confirmed Mr Keating will be the main speaker and emphasised that he had attended other events - in his official capacity - in order to commemorate milestone moments in history, including events to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme.

"Everyone has the right to hold commemorations in a respectful and dignified manner as enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement," it said.

"This commemoration will be held to commemorate the anniversary of the Easter Rising."

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