Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein Lord Mayor John Finucane to lay a wreath at Somme memorial

Gesture: John Finucane
Gesture: John Finucane
Mark Edwards

By Mark Edwards

Belfast Sinn Fein Lord Mayor John Finucane will lay a laurel wreath at City Hall in remembrance of those killed in the Battle of the Somme.

Mr Finucane said the event on Monday is an opportunity to reach out to unionists and loyalists.

He will also chair a special council meeting at 10.45am on the same day to endorse a resolution praising those who died.

The resolution accords the council's gratitude to the "brave men of the 36th (Ulster) Division and the 16th (Irish) Division and other forces" for their sacrifice during battle.

Men from all over of Ireland fought at the Somme.

The opening day of battle - July 1, 1916, - remains the bloodiest in the British Army's history.

A total of 19,240 were killed within 24 hours and almost a 10th of those who died that day were from the 36th Division.

Mr Finucane is not the first Sinn Fein Lord Mayor to lay a Somme wreath. Alex Maskey was the first to do so in 2002, and subsequent republican office holders have followed.

Mr Finucance said it was important to reach out during his term as Belfast's first citizen. "When I became mayor of this city I said I would be a mayor who will represent all of the people in this city regardless of political allegiance, gender, religious belief or none, ethnic background or sexual orientation," he said.

"I believe it consolidates and builds upon the initiatives taken by former Sinn Fein mayors and deputy mayors of Belfast to reach out to the unionist and loyalist people of Belfast.

"It clearly shows that republicans are committed to engaging with unionists and loyalists and that we are prepared to meet them on common ground.

"This is what making peace is all about.

"I am keen to show the continued commitment that republicans in this city have to building bridges into the unionist and loyalist community.

"I believe we need to have an open and rational debate about how civic institutions commemorate these events in our shared past in an inclusive fashion."

Mr Finucane, whose solicitor father Pat was murdered by loyalist terrorists 30 years ago, entered politics in 2017, running as a candidate for North Belfast in the general election.

He was returned as a councillor in May's elections and appointed Lord Mayor later in the month.

The day after he was sworn in Mr Finucane was told by police that loyalists were planning to attack his home.

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