Watch: Anger as Britain First's Jayda Fransen makes statement from Lord Mayor's seat in Belfast City Hall - investigation launched
'Derogatory to democratic system' says former first citizen
There has been anger and calls for an investigation after the Britain First deputy leader took to the Lord Mayor's seat in Belfast City Hall to make a statement.
Britain First posted a video on Facebook featuring Jayda Fransen, a figure head of the controversial far-right group who had just appeared in court to learn she will face trial over comments made at a Belfast rally last summer.
In the video Ms Fransen is seen sitting in the Lord Mayor's position in a councillor's robes saying she wants to tell her supporters she intends to fight the charges and clear her name for a speech "in which I mentioned the 'I' word Islam".
Independent unionist councillor Jolene Bunting told the Belfast Telegraph she facilitated a tour for the controversial figure. She said, like all other tourists visiting Belfast, Ms Fransen took a tour and the opportunity to don a councillor's robes and sit in the Lord Mayor's chair.
Belfast City Council, however, said the protocols for filming in the chamber were not followed and it was not made aware of the plans. It said it was looking into the circumstances.
Former Belfast Lord Mayor, Brian Kingston said the use of the chamber to make a statement from such a controversial figure was an "abuse of privilege" by the councillor and "derogatory to the democratic system".
"I, like many others, show people around city hall but it is not for them to abuse the Lord Mayor's seat for making political statements.
"Jayda Fransen has nothing to do with Belfast City Council and she should not be using the chamber to make statements and I am astonished. She is a constant attention seeker and this is just a foolish publicity stunt to which the council should have no part in.
"This is not the only time we have seen people abusing items associated with the Lord Mayor. People will think it is a prank but is is actually derogatory to the democratic system."
Jolene Bunting told the Belfast Telegraph there was nothing wrong with the video and Ms Fransen was entitled to visit and tour city hall like many others do on a daily basis.
"I don't believe I have abused any privileges in any way, it was certainly not my intention," she told the Belfast Telegraph.
"I do not see why there should be such an issue with it.
"Britain First is a political party, they are political activists and they have their opinions and policies, lots of which I agree with.
"People may not agree with their opinion but they still have right to their opinions and to having their say in our society under freedom of speech rights."
Last year Britain First came to global prominence when US President Donald Trump retweeted posts from Ms Fransen to his millions of followers provoking a storm of anger across the political spectrum.
Ms Bunting said it was a "nonsense" to describe the party as racist.
"They have members of every creed and colour and from many different ethnic minorities including Chinese people and people with black skin.
"They have an ideology, a way of life they believe in and want to celebrate it and they see people going against that and when they raise it they are made out to be criminals."
Sinn Fein leader on Belfast City Council Jim McVeigh said the sight of the Britain First deputy leader in the Lord Mayor's seat was not an image the city should be sending out.
"It's a disgrace someone like that should be allowed anywhere near such a democratic space. I will be contacting the chief executive and will be calling for an investigation to see how this could be allowed to happen.
"This will no doubt be offensive to many people in our city, it should not have happened. It was only last week we had Councillor Bunting talk about problematic members of our society and then go off on a rant about the Quran. The last thing we need is her flaunting her nasty opinions on the citizens of Belfast - these views are not wanted.
"It's not a good image for the city and we have to make sure it doesn't happen again."
A Belfast City Council spokeswoman added: “Council has been made aware of the video post and is currently looking into the circumstances. The usual procedures for those wishing to film or use council premises were not followed. We received no request nor were we made aware of these plans.”
Belfast Telegraph Digital