Mayor denies snubbing invitation from Palace in council vote bust-up
The Sinn Fein Mayor of Derry and Strabane Maoliosa McHugh has hit back after unionists accused him of snubbing an invitation to a Buckingham Palace garden party.
On Monday night a furious row broke out at a confidential Guildhall meeting over an invitation for a council representative to attend one of the Queen's summer events.
They are held to recognise those who are named in the New Year's Honour's List.
Fifteen councillors voted in favour of sending a representative and 15 members voted against the proposal.
Mayor Maoliosa McHugh then used his casting vote to block the move, resulting in uproar from the unionist seats and cat-calls of "shame" and "where's your respect now?"
The move comes just months after Mr McHugh caused controversy after refusing to meet Prince Charles during his visit to the north west.
He also wore his chain of office to Maghaberry Prison to visit a jailed republican.
DUP councillor David Ramsey said he was "disgusted at the disrespect shown" and outraged that the Palace invitation will now be ignored.
However, Mr McHugh said it wasn't a snub, but that he "had no intention of going to Buckingham Palace".
"I didn't snub an invitation to Buckingham Palace as such," he said.
"I have no intention of going to Buckingham Palace and the likes of that in the first instance.
"There was a proposal came to the floor that we would deal with this in the same way as we have always dealt with invitations to garden parties and the like - that in the event of someone attending, they would carry the costs themselves. An amendment was put in that the council would carry the cost for an individual and their partner to attend a garden party.
"That amendment was carried, a substantive motion failed. There's nothing more to say."
Responding to criticism that he had 'snubbed' the unionist community, the Sinn Fein mayor said he did not view things in the context of 'two communities'.
"I have never seen politics in that respect. I do see myself as mayor, representative of 'the' community, not of two communities," he said.
In a joint statement, two Ulster Unionist councillors - former Derry mayor Mary Hamilton and UUP group leader, Alderman Derek Hussey - condemned the decision as "a slap in the teeth for the unionist people".
"In a week where a Sinn Fein MP demonstrated appalling disrespect for the victims of sectarian murder perpetrated by the IRA, and was let off with a slap on the wrist by the Sinn Fein leadership, the decision by another Sinn Fein-dominated council to dismiss a Buckingham Palace invitation reinforces what we already knew about that party - Sinn Fein are unwilling and incapable of demonstrating respect to their unionist neighbours or indeed anyone who disagrees with their point of view," they said.
"Sinn Fein had an opportunity to show some modicum of respect to their unionist neighbours. Instead the Mayor, Maoliosa McHugh, confirmed that he does not actually represent all the people in the council area by using his casting vote to kick the invitation out.
"How hard would it have been to pass the invitation to someone within the council who was content to attend? However, as usual that isn't good enough for Sinn Fein. It wants to stamp all over the unionist community.
"For a party that preaches equality and respect, they have once again demonstrated that those words are only a couple of tools for use as part of the republican Trojan Horse strategy.
"Any normal party would hang its head in shame, but Sinn Fein isn't a normal political party. So much for their slogan of 'an Ireland of equals'."