Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein is happy to see unionists celebrate Queen

The party's support for Jubilee celebrations in Belfast is proof that republicanism is tolerant and inclusive, says Jim McVeigh

In March this year, the mayor of Belfast, Niall O Donnghaile, unveiled a beautiful stained-glass window entitled 'Celtic Myths and Legends' right in the heart of the City Hall.

This is only the latest of a series of stained-glass windows, including one dedicated to An Gorta Mor and another to Big Jim Larkin and the heroic dockers' and carters' strike of 1907.

A month previously, the council hosted a celebration of Irish language and culture in the Great Hall. Hundreds of Irish-speakers from across the city celebrated our culture.

Earlier in the year, Belfast City Council committed itself to marking a decade of important centenaries in a spirit of generosity and inclusiveness.

From the signing of the Ulster Covenant in 1912, through the 1913 lock-out and the rise of the suffragettes to the 1916 Easter Rising and the formation of the new northern state in 1922.

As part of that inclusive approach, we have already agreed that the council will host a civic dinner to mark the 1916 Rising. Who would have thought such agreement would ever have been possible?

The City Hall is no longer a bastion of bigotry; we have changed that for good and will continue to drive the equality agenda forward.

But, of course, equality and respect is not a one-way street. This means that republicans must also treat others, especially when we disagree with them, with respect and tolerance.

In February of this year, Sinn Fein on Belfast City Council supported a proposal that £56,000 be set aside to allow unionist citizens of the city to mark the British Queen's Jubilee in June.

While I myself, or any of my comrades, will not be participating in any of these events, simply because we are Irish republicans opposed to monarchy of any sort, we fully recognise that there are many unionists in the city who feel passionately about these matters. For them and for their communities, this is a very significant anniversary.

As an act of generosity and as a mark of respect to them and to their traditions, we supported this proposal.

In the united Ireland that we are working towards every day in the City Hall, in Stormont and in Leinster House, there will be a respectful place for all traditions, including the British one.

The new republic that we are trying to create will be an inclusive and a tolerant one. One of the essential tasks that we have set ourselves is to try to reach out to unionists and loyalists in the north and persuade them that they have nothing to fear from Irish unity.

These small gestures on our part are an essential element of demonstrating that republicanism is a tolerant and inclusive philosophy.

We are not in the business of shallow rhetoric and empty slogans on these matters. Where others have been content to sit in comfortable armchairs, or indulge in flights of fancy, we have been in the business of delivering change within councils and on the ground for the people and communities we represent.

Our priority in the period ahead will be to continue to deliver. In the coming months, Belfast City Council will be investing tens of millions of pounds in community regeneration and job-creation projects.

That work will start literally within weeks, with the start of construction of a new £2m Dunville Park in west Belfast and another £2m investment in a new Woodvale Park, but that is only the start.

We are determined to deliver for every part of the city - north, south and east as well as west and for every citizen of the city, but in particular for our most deprived communities and citizens.

That includes the Shankill, as well as the Falls, Tigers Bay, as well as New Lodge and Ardoyne, Sandy Row and the Village, as well as the Markets and Short Strand.

We continue to stand for Liberty, Equality and Fraternity - and that includes our unionist neighbours.

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