Anger over Sinn Fein mayor's 'glorification' of IRA members
The newly-elected mayor of Causeway Coast and Glens Council has come under attack over his attendance at IRA commemorations.
Sean Bateson (26), who topped the poll for Sinn Fein in the Bann electoral area, was appointed mayor of the borough just days after being elected for his first term.
Over the weekend, social media posts emerged which showed Mr Bateson - who is a supply teacher at Sperrin Integrated College in Magherafelt - posing for photographs at a memorial to two IRA men.
A Twitter post boasting about tearing down a Union flag - described as a 'butcher's apron' by Mr Bateson in the tweet - also surfaced.
A report in the Sunday World newspaper also quoted a Sperrin Integrated parent as being concerned about Mr Bateson's role in teaching history there.
"How can he teach at a mixed school when he has no issue glorifying IRA terrorists?" the parent said.
Fellow councillor Russell Watton - a PUP representative for Coleraine - said Mr Bateson's appointment as mayor was "a massive own goal" for unionism.
Writing on Facebook, Mr Watton said the council had "handed Sinn Fein a major propaganda boost".
The area will this summer host The Open golf tournament, which will bring visitors from all across the world to the Causeway Coast. "This year we also have the freedom of the Borough for the RAF and the dedication of a memorial to fallen UDR members", he said.
"Surely these events deserved the presence of a unionist mayor?" Mr Watton asked.
He also criticised the DUP - the largest party on the council - for agreeing to have a second Sinn Fein mayor in a row.
He claimed there was an agreement made so that the DUP would have the mayor's post in 2021 - the centenary of the founding of Northern Ireland.
Mr Bateson did not respond to a request for comment on the Sunday World story, but a Sinn Fein spokesperson said: "Everyone has the right under the Good Friday Agreement to remember their dead with dignity and respect.
"Irish republicans who lost their lives as a result of the conflict are held in the highest esteem by many Irish people, and Sinn Fein will continue to stand in solidarity with their families and friends."
The party spokesperson dismissed as 'banter' Mr Bateson's 'butcher's apron' tweet.
"This was a bit of banter between two friends. The incident didn't happen," the spokesman said about the claim the flag was torn down.
They added that the election of the mayor was carried out under the long-established d'Hondt system, which is also used to choose ministers in the Stormont Executive.
Mrs Brigid Heron, principal at Sperrin Integrated College, said in a statement that the college advocates peace and non violence.
"Sperrin Integrated College is a broad church and is made up of people from different walks of life, backgrounds, religions and cultures and we acknowledge these differences.
"The substitute teacher you have name is not an employee of Sperrin College and has had no continuous service at the school. He is registered on the Northern Ireland Register for Substitute Teachers (NISTR) which is used by all schools in Northern Ireland.
"All teachers on this register are protected by employment law which includes religion, marital status, disability, nationality and sexual orientation.
"Sperrin Integrated College, like all other schools in NI, has no access to information held by NISTR on any individual."