UDA chiefs force McDonald to turn down City Hall invite to unveiling of republican icon's portrait
Loyalist 'brigadier' Jackie McDonald has pulled out of a City Hall event on Friday - forced into an embarrassing U-turn because of a backlash from other UDA leaders.
McDonald had accepted an invitation to the unveiling of a new portrait of republican icon James Connolly, but has now told organisers he won't be there.
It is understood he was forced to backtrack because of vehement opposition from other UDA bosses - angry that Sinn Fein Lord Mayor Niall O Donnghaile removed portraits of members of the Royal Family from his parlour.
And that City Hall picture row means McDonald has to side with those he sits with on the paramilitary group's Inner Council.
"The Lord Mayor has a responsibility to all the people of Belfast," McDonald told this newspaper.
"By taking the Royal portraits down, he sent the wrong message to the Protestant-unionist-loyalist community.
"This would have been an opportunity for me to say this and to remind Sinn Fein of their wider responsibility to the whole community.
"This was the reason for accepting the invitation," he said.
That invitation came from Siptu - the Services Industrial Professional and Technical Union - of which McDonald is a member.
In a two-part event, the Connolly portrait will be presented to the Lord Mayor in his office and then there will be a panel discussion in another room.
UDA leader McDonald was invited to both and would have joined Sinn Fein Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin as one of four speakers.
"There are a lot of people from the Protestant-loyalist working class communities working hard to move the peace process forward," McDonald said.
"And we need people in responsible positions, such as the Lord Mayor, not to be divisive and to show the Protestant-loyalist-unionist community that he's Lord Mayor for all the people.
"Because of the reaction since this [the McDonald invitation] became public, I've now decided to decline the invitation," the senior loyalist said.
McDonald did not elaborate, but this newspaper understands the reaction came from the very top of the UDA organisation - from the other so-called brigadiers.
Some of them have just returned from a visit to the United States.
"We've wanted to do this for a long, long time - get the loyalist message across [in the United States]," McDonald said.
"And that would have been the purpose of attending on Friday," he added.
But, this time, the loyalist leader has been silenced and vetoed by those whom he sits with at the UDA top table - Matt Kincaid, John Bunting, Jimmy Birch and Billy McFarland.
Sinn Fein's leader on Belfast City Council, Jim McVeigh, also a member of Siptu, described the decision as a disappointment.
"I think it's important that the voice of working class loyalists and Protestants is heard in this type of discussion," he said.