Sinn Fein mayor unrepentant after visiting inmate wearing chain of office
A defiant Sinn Fein mayor last night told councillors in Londonderry that he "makes no apologies" for visiting a jailed republican in Maghaberry Prison wearing his chain of office.
Derry City and Strabane mayor Maoliosa McHugh told his critics: "Get used to it."
Mr McHugh was speaking after a motion was brought before the council by former DUP mayor Hilary McClintock, calling on him to apologise after being pictured outside Maghaberry two weeks ago wearing his chain while visiting former IRA man Tony Taylor.
Mr Taylor was sentenced to 18 years in prison in 1994, and again jailed for three years in 2011. However, he had his licence revoked in March last year and was returned to prison.
Campaigners have long called for the Derry man's release, stating there is no evidence of any wrongdoing.
Mrs McClintock said that there are serious concerns within the unionist community regarding the neutrality of the office of mayor in the wake of the jail visit, and urged him to apologise.
Her motion stated that the role of the mayor to represent everyone "has been severely compromised by the ongoing politicisation of the role by Mayor McHugh, wearing the chain of office on several occasions whilst promoting his own party politics to the detriment of good relations". It also called on him to apologise.
Mrs McClintock said that the mayor's move "deeply hurt" the unionist community.
"Serious questions are being asked in this council area as to your ability to continue to fulfil your role", she told him in the chamber.
"I would ask you, do you acknowledge the hurt you have caused to sizeable numbers of residents in this council area and that you reaffirm today that party politics and the mayor's role are not to be confused, so as not to jeopardise further the carrying out of your duties in a sensitive and apolitical manner, representing all citizens in this council area. What I am asking of you today is equality, respect and integrity."
However, Mr McHugh refused to apologise and said that it was a "human rights issue" that he was "proud" to stand on.
"Tony Taylor is a resident of our community, of this city," he said. "He is incarcerated at this present time effectively without trial. It is internment.
"A prisoner is the weakest person in our society and as mayor, I took great pride in standing in basic rights of that prisoner as I would do for you, Alderman McClintock, or any other person in here or in the community who find themselves incarcerated under similar circumstances.
"I will stand with the most deprived. Not only to make totally aware of his incarceration but that his family, his wife, his son with special needs, are effectively incarcerated as well. I make no apologies whatsoever for raising what is a human rights issue."
He told Mrs McClintock that she should "get used to it as I won't shirk away from that responsibility".
The motion fell after a majority of councillors voted against it.