Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein Lord Mayor Finucane is 'glad to lead' during Armistice Day service

By Ralph Hewitt and Gillian Halliday

Lord Mayor of Belfast John Finucane attended a two-minute silence at Belfast City Hall's cenotaph to mark Armistice Day yesterday.

A large crowd was in attendance, despite the wet and windy conditions, to remember the moment the agreement came into force to end fighting in the First World War.

Mr Finucane, who is running as Sinn Fein's Westminster candidate in North Belfast, did not attend Sunday's Remembrance Day event but said he was unable to do so due to personal reasons.

Speaking after yesterday's ceremony, the Belfast councillor was asked would he have gone if he was able to attend, and said: "It didn't arise this year but as Mayor I was glad to lead on it today for Armistice Day."

After the service concluded, Mr Finucane stated it was important to remember those who died in the Great War.

He explained he had lost family members on the battlefields of Belgium and France and he was "glad" to stand beside the British Legion for the "dignified and appropriate" service which he was "happy" to attend.

"As someone who lost relatives in the First World War, today is significant for me personally as well as politically," he added.

"The island of Ireland experienced enormous human tragedy in the First World War, with over 35,000 citizens slaughtered. It is important we remember them today."

Commenting on yesterday's Armistice Day event which he led at Belfast City Hall, Mr Finucane said the fact he is a Sinn Fein Lord Mayor should be "irrelevant".

"There was great numbers in Belfast today," he stated. "I think the fact that it's a Sinn Fein Mayor should be irrelevant to how the city leads on that.

"It doesn't cause me any discomfort to stand there and remember. I think the important part is to remove politics from the act of remembrance because remembrance for me is the most important part.

"Whether you agree with the politics behind the First World War or not, tens of thousands of people from Ireland were slaughtered in that war and people still live with that.

"People have that personal connection and people are very proud of that connection. That's appropriate and from a civic point of view, in Belfast City Council, I think that is important, that that lead is shown from there."

Belfast Lord Mayor John Finucane (second from left) marking Armistice Day
Belfast Lord Mayor John Finucane (second from left) marking Armistice Day
Little Lexi-Mea from Belfast placing a remembrance cross for her great grandfather Samuel in Belfast City Hall
People pay their respects
A wreath was placed on a memorial by Mrs Maureen Lightbody, a former Wren during World War Two
People pay their respects
People pay their respects

Mr Finucane added that he wants to see remembrance "across the board" no longer controversial, when asked if he could envision a day when Sinn Fein attends Remembrance Sunday events.

"That's what I would like to see in this society because remembrance for me is about paying tribute to those who died in, at that time, unprecedented levels," he said. "And I think it is important that we do that, but the controversy around remembrance should be removed."

Mr Finucane was also asked if Sinn Fein can do more to de-politicise the poppy and he replied: "I think we have a very good history of outreach, particularly with the British Legion. I know there have been private conversations over the years, as well as public engagements. I think we've a role to play, as do others, as well. I think the sooner we can take the controversy out of remembrance, the better."

Ceremonies were held across the UK and Dublin to mark Armistice Day.

Five Victoria Cross plaques were unveiled at Dublin's Glasnevin Cemetery, dedicated to five soldiers from different ranks who showed extreme bravery during the First World War.

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