Unionists slam Sinn Fein Remembrance Day snub
Unionists have hit out at Sinn Fein's decision not to have its mayors attend Remembrance Sunday events across Northern Ireland.
A party spokesman said its representatives wanted to avoid standing alongside uniformed members of the Armed Forces and would not take part in events which "celebrate or attempt to legitimise British imperialism".
Sinn Fein mayors, including Belfast's Deirdre Hargey, will also not be laying wreaths in individual one-off ceremonies before the events begin.
In previous years Sinn Fein mayors in Belfast such as Mairtin O Muilleoir took part in Armistice Day events but not Remembrance Sunday events.
But this year, Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday fall on the same day.
This year also marks 100 years since the armistice which ended the First World War at 11am on November 11, 1918.
The DUP's East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell, however, called it a "corporate decision to snub Remembrance Sunday".
Ulster Unionist MLA and Military Cross recipient Doug Beattie said it was a "petty" move from Sinn Fein who were "hitting back at the establishment" after senior party member John Downey was arrested this week in relation to the 1972 murders of two UDR officers.
There are currently two other Sinn Fein mayors in Northern Ireland - chairman of Mid Ulster Council Sean McPeake and Brenda Chivers who is Mayor of Causeway Coast and Glens Council. In Belfast, deputy Lord Mayor Emmet McDonough-Brown of the Alliance Party confirmed he would deputise for Ms Hargey at Belfast City Hall on Sunday.
Earlier this week, High Sheriff Carol Howard (Alliance) represented Belfast City Council during the planting of crosses at City Hall for the Fields of Remembrance event.
However, Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O'Neill will represent the party at the Remembrance Day service at St Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin on Sunday.
A Sinn Fein spokesman said Ms Hargey had taken part in a number of events around the First World War this year.
He also revealed that the party had been in discussions with the Royal British Legion (RBL) in Belfast over "how we can respectfully remember" those who lost their lives in the First World War.
In Mid Ulster, the party said Mr McPeake organised a remembrance event in December to bring people together.
The spokesman added: "Sinn Fein representatives such as Belfast Mayor Deirdre Hargey have already engaged in a number of events this year including laying a wreath on the Somme anniversary, chairing a special Somme council meeting and speaking at a City Hall event to remember all of those who died in the First World War.
"Councillor Sean McPeake as mayor in Mid Ulster has organised a remembrance event in December that brings together people for a 'Day of Reflection'.
"Sinn Fein will not participate in British military commemorations or events which celebrate or attempt to legitimise British imperialism."
Mr Campbell said this was a "backwards step" which showed Sinn Fein were "retreating to their base".
"Their Irish presidential candidate broadcast that she was prepared to wear a poppy yet this co-ordinated announcement shows a corporate decision to snub Remembrance Sunday," he said.
He added that soldiers from both sides fought in the conflict and "whatever Sinn Fein's view of our Armed Forces today, they are withholding respect from all those from right across our community who served a century ago".
Mr Beattie commented: "I think it's quite clear that Sinn Fein's respect agenda is in absolute shreds. They are saying they're not willing to remember the thousands of Irish men and women on both sides who gave their lives in the Great War.
"To come up with some nonsense to say they won't stand beside people in uniform to celebrate imperialism, when they have done it every year before, is absolute rubbish."
He added: "Their real issue is that John Downey was arrested and they're feeling wounded because an IRA man was arrested for murder and this is them trying to get back at the establishment."
His party colleague, Belfast councillor Sonia Copeland, said: "I think it's very sad, but not surprising.
"At the end of the day, if Sinn Fein are taking on the role of first citizen they need to play that role, representing everyone despite their colour, creed or religion."