Belfast's mayor Niall O Donnghaile to quit post early to avoid meeting Queen on Jubilee visit
Belfast's Lord Mayor is to stand down from his office early to avoid meeting the Queen.
Sinn Fein’s Niall O Donnghaile is to stand aside and let the DUP take up the First Citizen position in time for the diamond Jubilee celebrations at the start of June.
City Hall sources have confirmed that, for the first time, standing orders have been changed to allow the new Lord Mayor — tipped to be the DUP’s Gavin Robinson — to be elected at a meeting on Friday, June 1, ahead of festivities marking the Queen’s 60 years on the throne.
Normally, only special meetings are held on Fridays.
Jim McVeigh, Sinn Fein group party leader on Belfast City Council, said: “We knew that the Jubilee celebrations were coming up and had a discussion with the DUP about that. We were happy to come out of that role and they were happy to come in a little bit early because of the issue of the anniversary.”
But unionists have described the Sinn Fein move as a snub.
Buckingham Palace has declined to release dates for the Queen’s visit to Northern Ireland for security reasons.
However, last year Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said he would meet the Queen if he was elected President of Ireland.
By contrast, however, Mr O Donnghaile — an avid GAA fan and fluent Irish speaker from the Short Strand district of Belfast — refused to be drawn on the matter.
It is understood the decision to appoint a new Mayor a week early came after a mutual agreement between unionists and nationalists in Belfast.
In February, Sinn Fein, which is the largest party on Belfast City Council with 16 seats, backed plans to fund events marking the Jubilee — including the £56,000 council-run grant scheme to help community organisations in the city organise their own Jubilee events.
Mr McVeigh added: “We as republicans obviously are not keen to celebrate the Jubilee in any shape or form. But, we have supported the recent round of funding when it came before council and we are happy for unionists to celebrate if they so wish. But, it is not something that we would be involved in as republicans.
“This is as much about accommodating the unionists as about us not wanting to be part of the Jubilee celebrations. We are republicans and have no great love for the royalty in any shape or form. We do not want to be part of the celebrations. A unionist Mayor would love to be on that seat when a member of the Royalty or maybe even the Queen herself comes to Belfast.”
Last year, Mr O Donnghaile sparked a political storm after he refused to present a certificate to a 14-year-old Army cadet during a Duke of Edinburgh awards ceremony. He also caused outrage after removing royal portraits from his parlour.
This latest move has again angered long-standing unionists.
“It is definitely a snub,” said former Lord Mayor Jim Rodgers. “It is unfortunate in view of what the Deputy First Minister said last year — that he would meet the Queen.
“When I was Lord Mayor I met a wide range of people from both sides. I was criticised both publicly and privately for it — but I believe you have to lead to the city and you have to be above politics. Unfortunately this current Lord Mayor has been one of the most political that I can remember in more than 20 years in council.”
Meanwhile, the DUP’s deputy Lord Mayor Ruth Patterson said: “I thought that the current Lord Mayor would have learned a severe lesson from when he refused to present an Army cadet with a certificate last December.”