Belfast Telegraph

Errors of judgment may reopen old wounds

Those who hold public office have a duty to consider all their actions carefully, and errors of judgment can have far-reaching consequences.

The Foyle SDLP MLA Colum Eastwood attended a paramilitary-style funeral and helped to carry the coffin of Seamus Coyle, a former member of the Official IRA and INLA.

Although he says he was not there when a member of the Real IRA fired shots over the coffin, by being seen prominently at the funeral, Mr Eastwood has left himself open to justified criticism.

Mr Eastwood, a member of the Assembly's justice committee, defended his participation because Seamus Coyle was a close friend with whom he disagreed "on many things", but who had become committed to peace.

However, he could have found other ways to pay tribute to his friend. Symbols are powerful, and in a city like Londonderry, which continues to suffer from dissident republican violence, Mr Eastwood has made a serious misjudgment.

So, too, has Belfast Lord Mayor Niall O Donnghaile, who has decided to leave office a week early to avoid meeting the Queen during her visit in June as part of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

This shows what some might call political immaturity by a Lord Mayor who, despite encouraging attendance at many of the city's cross-community events during his term of office, has displayed a lack of judgment at other key moments, such as failing to present a Duke of Edinburgh award to a young woman who was also an Army cadet.

The Lord Mayor's deliberate avoidance of the Queen is unfortunate, and also rather strange, as Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness is on record as saying that he would consider doing so.

At a time when so many other people in public life are working hard to heal the wounds of the past, Colum Eastwood, as a peace-building politician, and Niall O Donnaghaile, as the Lord Mayor for all the people of Belfast, have made bad choices.

The people they represent in Derry and Belfast, and all of us, deserve much better than this.

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