Sinn Féin respond to Belfast Telegraph's sensational and erroneous article on Mayor of Belfast.
When Niall Ó Donnghaile became the youngest Mayor in the history of the city of Belfast last year, he set out to be Mayor for all the citizens of our city, particularly those among us who felt marginalized or neglected.
On Wednesday of this week the Mayor will host a conference entitled ‘Celebrating Life’, this event will highlight the devastating effect of suicide upon our families and communities and aims to raise awareness around positive mental health and suicide prevention.
He has made a particular effort to reach out to Unionists and working class Loyalist communities in particular, across this city.Within weeks of taking office he visited the Artability Centre on the Shankill Road to show his solidarity for the work they do with severely disabled adults and to assist them in their battle to secure necessary funding to continue their work.Funding that had ironically cut by a Unionist Minister!
Later he visited Hope Nursery School on the Shankill Road again, to support their bid for an award that would allow them to develop their play facilities.He has visited the Suffolk estate on a number of occasions, he joined former President Mary McAleese on a visit to the East Belfast Mission and I could list many more such engagements in which the Mayor has taken a leadership role. This outreach and engagement is something that is very personal for Niall and something that he believes very passionately in.
Earlier this year Niall, along with the rest of the Sinn Féin team, supported a proposal before council to fund Jubilee celebrations to the amount of fifty six thousand pounds.We recognise that these important anniversaries, such as the signing of the Covenent and the Somme and including the Jubilee, are hugely symbolic for the Unionist and Loyalist community.
Sinn Féin respects these traditions and in our new United Ireland there will be a respectful place for British culture and traditions.As we approach an important decade of centenaries, from the Jubilee in June through to the one hundredth anniversary of the 1916 Rising, to the founding of the Northern State in 1922, we recognise that it is important for us all to do so in a spirit of mutual respect and generosity.
It was with this in mind that last year, following the elections in May, we came to an agreement with the DUP that the current Mayor would step aside a few days early to allow a DUP Mayor to take up office in time for the Jubilee. By this stage Niall have already spent over a year in office given that he was elected on the 26th May last year.
Contrary to this being a snub to anyone, rather we were trying to accommodate Unionists.We were conscious that the Jubilee celebrations were a big deal for Unionists and therefore we offered to accommodate them.
Ironically at the time of those discussions, Niall might not have been aware that Sinn Féin had chosen him to take up the role.
For the Telegraph to suggest that he had chosen to ‘snub’ the British Queen was ridiculous and offensive.It was above all else unfair to a young man who has done his absolute best to be a good Mayor and a Mayor to all the citizens of this great city.
As we debate this matter there is no indication whatsoever that any member of the British Royalty, never mind the Queen herself, will be visiting Belfast that week.To be accused by the Telegraph of refusing to do something that he hadn’t been asked to do in the first place was wrong and unfair to the Mayor.
The lead headline was a badly chosen one.
Niall Ó Donnghaile has been a breath of fresh air for this city.He has given great leadership at a time of great economic distress.Almost single handedly he has helped change the perception of this is city abroad, from a depressed city emerging from conflict, to a vibrant dynamic modern city well worth investing in and well worth a visit.Credit where credit is due and Niall Ó Donnghaile deserves a great deal of credit for his year in office.