Belfast Mayor Faces Unionist Sanction

There's a continuing row in progress at Belfast City Hall as unionist councillors come together to present a demand for a special council meeting to discuss the actions of the Lord Mayor of Belfast, Niall Ó Donnghaile.

On foot of the Sinn Fein Lord Mayor's apparent refusal to present a Duke of Edinburgh's award to a 15-year-old girl - who is also a member of the military Cadet Forces - the summons has today been presented to officials having been signed by members of the Democratic Unionist Party, Ulster Unionist Party, PUP and independent unionist alderman, Frank McCoubrey.

It said: "This council is appalled that the Lord Mayor politicised the Duke of Edinburgh Awards presentation in City Hall on 28th November by refusing to present an award to a young member of the Armed Cadet Forces; affirms that the civic position of Lord Mayor is about representing and respecting everyone within this city and calls on the Lord Mayor to publicly apologise for his actions and the gross offence caused.

"Failure to do so immediately would render his position untenable and he should resign."

In an accompanying joint statement, Alderman Robin Newton, leader of the DUP Group in Belfast City Council and Alderman David Brown, UUP Group leader said: "The Lord Mayor has brought his office into disrepute by his actions and it is hard to underestimate the groundswell of public revulsion that he has generated.

"The vast majority of Belfast people, regardless of their background are appalled by his actions. It is now beyond any reasonable doubt that he has no intention of acting as a Lord Mayor for everyone.

"Throughout his term of office he has behaved in an exclusionary and backward-looking way. Such petty bigotry has no place in modern society.

"We are sending a message that all political representatives need to take a stand for genuine inclusion and fairness. At this juncture it is our hope that colleagues from other parties in the council will add their signatures to our requisition," the politician wrote.

The Alliance Party Belfast City Council Group Leader Cllr Máire Hendron has also condemned the actions of the Lord Mayor.

"I am appalled at what happened. We are trying to build a shared future and I am very shocked at what Cllr Niall Ó Donnghaile did.

"Being Lord Mayor is about representing and respecting everyone in the city of Belfast and I am deeply annoyed at Niall Ó Donnghaile's behaviour. The message that this incident sends out is very troubling."

The Ulster Unionist Mike Nesbitt and Strangford representative said: "The Lord Mayor of Belfast once again demonstrated his inability to represent all the citizens of the City."

However, the Lord Mayor responded by saying that he had already gone a long way as an Irish republican in participating in the Duke of Edinburgh Awards in the first place.

He said that he avoided the specific presentation to "avoid any sensitivities" and insisted he was only told "at the last minute" that an award was to be presented to a cadet force member and said someone else then joined him to present the certificates.

Mr O Donnghaile said he would be happy to meet the cadet and her family to explain his decision.

"Since becoming mayor in late May I have attended over 620 engagements, many of them in working class unionist communities.

"I take my responsibilities as being a mayor for all very seriously."

However, yesterday, the DUP Deputy Leader has also raised the matter at Northern Ireland Questions in the House of Commons.

Speaking from Westminster the North Belfast MP said: "The decision by the Sinn Fein Lord Mayor to refuse to hand out a Duke of Edinburgh Award to a young person simply because they were a member of the Army Cadets is deeply unhelpful to community relations. It has been clear from shortly after Mr O'Donnghaile took office that his promise to be a 'Lord Mayor for everyone' in Belfast was little more than hollow rhetoric," he said.


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