Belfast’s Sinn Fein Mayor will be absent from Remembrance
Unionists have reacted with anger after it emerged that Belfast Lord Mayor Tom Hartley will not take part in the city’s Remembrance Day commemorations this weekend.
The Sinn Fein councillor, who laid a wreath in memory of those who died during the Battle of the Somme outside Belfast City Hall earlier this year, is in the Republic on a series of engagements.
Yesterday, Belfast’s first citizen met with Irish President Mary McAleese at Aras an Uachtaran, while today he is expected to be in Limerick to meet the city’s Mayor. He then will travel to Waterford on Saturday and Kilkenny on Sunday.
The Belfast Telegraph was unable to contact Mr Hartley about why he would not be at the service on Sunday, but a Sinn Fein spokesman explained that he was on a four-day visit in the Republic and that the series of engagements had been arranged for a number of months.
DUP Belfast City councillor Diane Dodds described the explanation as “weak” and “disgraceful” adding that as Mayor he should be taking part in the city’s own commemoration.
“If Sinn Fein is throwing that up how weak and disgraceful and how disrespectful is that?” she said. “Tom Hartley is someone who has an interest in history, knows — and this is the 90th anniversary of the Armistice — that unionists and nationalists fought side by side and died for the cause of freedom and democracy.
“Tom Hartley in the past has gone to France to take part in the commemoration and has made television programmes about it. This is a disgrace that he cannot commemorate the 90th anniversary of the Armistice; that he cannot commemorate those unionists and nationalists, Protestants and Catholics, those who died in defence of democracy.
“If he can do it in France, why can he not do it in the city he is Lord Mayor of?”
In 2002, Mr Hartley travelled to France and Belgium with the late PUP leader David Ervine to commemorate the 50,000 Irish soldiers who died during World War One. The visit was filmed for a TV documentary.
In July, when Mr Hartley laid a wreath at the city’s Cenotaph, he said the gesture would build upon initiatives taken by former Lord Mayor Alex Maskey former Deputy Mayor Joe O'Donnell, both of whom he said had reached out to the unionist people of Belfast.
“It clearly shows that republicans are committed to engaging with the unionist and Protestant people and that we are prepared to meet them on common ground no matter how difficult it is for us as republicans to do so.”