Belfast Telegraph

O Donnghaile is showing good leadership in office

Sinn Fein's Lord Mayor is stepping down early to accommodate unionists, not as a snub to the Queen, says Jim McVeigh

When Niall O Donnghaile became the youngest mayor in the history of Belfast last year, he set out to be mayor for all the citizens of our city - particularly those among us who felt marginalised, or neglected.

He has made a particular effort to reach out to unionists - and working-class loyalist communities in particular - across this city.

Within weeks of taking office, he visited the ArtAbility Centre on the Shankill Road to show his solidarity for the work they do with severely disabled adults and to assist them in their battle to secure the necessary funding to continue their work - funding that, ironically, had been cut by a unionist minister.

Later, he visited Hope Nursery School on the Shankill Road - again to support its bid for an award that would allow them to develop their play facilities.

He has visited the Suffolk estate on a number of occasions, he joined former president Mary McAleese on a visit to the East Belfast Mission and I could list many more such engagements in which the mayor has taken a leadership role.

This outreach and engagement is something that Niall and something that he believes very passionately in. Earlier this year Niall, along with the rest of the Sinn Fein team, supported a proposal before council to fund Jubilee celebrations to the amount of £56,000.

We recognise that these important anniversaries, such as the signing of the Covenant and the Somme and including the Jubilee, are hugely symbolic for the unionist and loyalist community.

Sinn Fein respects these traditions and in our new united Ireland there will be a respectful place for British culture and traditions.

As we approach an important decade of centenaries, from the Jubilee in June through to the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising, to the founding of the Northern State in 1922, we recognise that it is important for us all to do so in a spirit of mutual respect and generosity.

It was with this in mind that last year, following the elections in May, we came to an agreement with the DUP that the current mayor would step aside a few days early to allow a DUP mayor to take up office in time for the Jubilee.

By this stage, Niall will have already spent more than a year in office, given that he was elected on May 26 last year.

Contrary to this being a snub to anyone, we were trying to accommodate unionists. We were conscious the Jubilee celebrations were big for unionists so we offered to accommodate them. Ironically, at the time of those discussions, Niall might not have been aware that Sinn Fein had chosen him to take up the role.

For the Belfast Telegraph to suggest that he had chosen to 'snub' the British Queen was ridiculous and offensive. It was, above all else, unfair to a young man who has done his absolute best to be a good mayor and a mayor to all.

There is no indication that any member of British Royalty - never mind the Queen herself - will be visiting Belfast that week. To be accused of refusing to do something that he hadn't been asked to do in the first place was wrong and unfair.

Niall O Donnghaile has been a breath of fresh air for this city. He has given great leadership at a time of great economic distress.

He has helped to change the perception of this city abroad, from a depressed city emerging from conflict to a vibrant, dynamic, modern city well worth investing in and well worth a visit. Niall O Donnghaile deserves a great deal of credit for his year in office.

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