Sinn Fein and DUP in Belfast City Hall clash over 'glorifying of terrorism'
A Sinn Fein representative on Belfast City Council has denied claims he was glorifying terrorism after a verbal spat with a DUP councillor in City Hall on Wednesday evening.
During a debate on lowering the voting age at this month's full council meeting several references were made to the fact that while 16-year-olds can join the British Armed Forces, they cannot vote.
Sinn Fein's Jim McVeigh commented that he too had "joined military forces at the age of 16, but it wasn't the British Army".
Mr McVeigh was sent to prison for IRA offences in 1983 and released in 1991. In 1992 he was sentenced to 31 years for conspiracy to murder soldiers, and released in 2000 under the Good Friday Agreement.
Brian Kingston of the DUP took exception to Mr McVeigh's comments and said the republican representative was going against the letter of a declaration signed by all councillors to stand against terrorism.
Mr Kingston called for a point of order to be made by Deputy Lord Mayor Sonia Copeland, who was presiding, to the effect that councillor McVeigh had gone against the anti-terrorist pledge and the local authority code of conduct.
Mr McVeigh repeatedly challenged the chair about how he had been in breach of the codes, and was asked several times to sit down by the Deputy Lord Mayor.
At one stage independent unionist Jolene Bunting proposed councillor McVeigh be barred from speaking. "I was barred for a lot less," she said.
A vote on her proposal was not taken, but Ms Copeland told councillors they should set an example and be mindful of the code of conduct.
Mr Kingston said: "It's ironic that councillor McVeigh chose a debate about the involvement of young people in politics to comment about his involvement in terrorism at a young age.
"I would remind him and his colleagues that they signed a declaration to reject paramilitary violence. Bringing about change in society needs to be through democratic means.
"Sadly, as we have seen in the last few days in Poleglass, there are dissidents continuing to use violence and comments like these only give succour to them.
"There is an onus on all republicans to uphold democratic methods, but they are constantly into the revisionism of violence and trying to justify their actions.
"I am not saying someone with a violent past can't have a future. But if you want a future in politics, leave that violent past behind."
Mr McVeigh said the row in the chamber was "no big deal."
He told the Belfast Telegraph that during the debate he received jibes from unionists "that it was good to see the Shinners speaking about the armed forces".
Councillor McVeigh said: "Sinn Fein weren't in the armed forces. I joined military forces when I was 16 and it wasn't the British Army. That was the context. It was no big deal."
Asked if his comments were against the declaration of non-violence signed by political representatives, he said: "Absolutely not. This was a matter to do with the historical context of the Troubles, not about the current political climate here now."
Mr McVeigh was once the IRA 'officer commanding' in the Maze Prison.
He said: "I'm not ashamed of it (my past), not in the least bit ashamed about it.
"I've no problem whatsoever saying that I'm proud of my involvement in the republican struggle."
When co-opted onto Belfast City Council as Sinn Fein group leader in 2010 he emphasised that the IRA's campaign was over.
He was joined on Belfast City Council in 2015 by Seanna Walsh, also a former leader of IRA members in prison, who was chosen to read the IRA declaration that its armed campaign had ended in 2005.