Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: A slight belonging to the bad old days

No one should be surprised at the criticism of Belfast's Lord Mayor Niall O Donnghaile for his refusal to present a Duke of Edinburgh award to a teenage army cadet.

In spite of power sharing and the new political atmosphere in Northern Ireland, every opportunity to score political points is taken still with relish. And the Lord Mayor, a member of Sinn Fein, really has no-one to blame but himself.

Having said that, he has shown himself to be a man willing to reach out to unionists. One of his first visits on taking office was to the Shankill Road and he has also taken part in and encouraged cross-community projects.

So it was unfortunate that when the past tapped him on the shoulder the other night at the Duke of Edinburgh awards presentations, he heeded the old knee jerk political reflexes because of the girl's army connection.

Had he merely handed over the award as he did with others, no one would have paid the slightest heed. His actions were insensitive to the girl - for which he has apologised - and created a controversy where none needed to exist. Hopefully he has learned from this experience because Northern Ireland needs more young politicians who will feel less and less constrained by history and who will see inclusiveness as the norm rather than a painful process of development.

Sinn Fein has made a huge transition from a party which actively supported violence to the stage where a leading member, Martin McGuinness, can describe dissident republicans as traitors. However it still has a lot of baggage and historical touchstones which prevent it, on occasion, acting in an inclusive manner.

But just as equally there are some unionists who would prolong this controversy beyond its natural life for reasons unconnected with the understandably hurt feelings of a 15-year-old girl.

All sides should reflect that continuing to bicker along tired traditional lines does nothing for the image of a city which has recently done much to present itself as a place of the future not the past.

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