Sinn Féin Lord Mayor attends Belfast Armistice Day ceremony

Ó Muilleoir says decision to honour British army war dead ‘most difficult decision’

Sinn Féin Mayor of Belfast Mairtín Ó Muilleoir (left) attends the Armistice Day service at the cenotaph at Belfast City Hall yesterday. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire

Sinn Féin Mayor of Belfast Mairtín Ó Muilleoir (left) attends the Armistice Day service at the cenotaph at Belfast City Hall yesterday. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire

Mon, Nov 11, 2013, 22:40

DAN KEENAN

The Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Belfast has, for the first time, attended the annual Armistice Day ceremony at the Cenotaph in the grounds of Belfast City Hall.

Mairtín Ó Muilleoir said: “I think it’s the most difficult decision I have made in 30 years in politics and community activism. It is a challenge and I think that it had to be done. I think the peace and building the peace and building a better Belfast demands that we have to move ourselves into places where we are uncomfortable, which challenge us and which move us into new positions of peacemaking.”

Sinn Féin lord mayors have attended private commemoration ceremonies in previous years before the official acts of remembrance.

‘Show respect’

“This is a huge event in the unionist calendar in particular and I wanted to show respect for unionist people and the Protestant people of Belfast by being at the cenotaph on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.”

He added: “It’s very difficult for Belfast’s republicans, many Belfast people, because of the experiences we have had with the British army over the last three decades, and more, to accept that a mayor who comes from a Sinn Féin tradition would be at the cenotaph.”

Col Mervyn Elder, president of the Royal British Legion which organises the Armistice Day event, said he was delighted the Lord Mayor had attended.

He accompanied him to the cenotaph at City Hall where Mr Ó Muilleoir stood alongside the Deputy Lord Mayor, DUP councillor Chris Stalford, for the two-minute silence and sounding of the last post.

‘Admirable leadership’

Martin McGuinness, Deputy First Minister and Mr Ó Muilleoir’s Sinn Féin colleague commended him for his “admirable leadership”.

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt also welcomed Mr Ó Muilleoir’s participation and that of SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell at a service in Stormont. “I consider these gestures important at a time when a generosity of spirit will be required from all political leaders if we are to succeed in our current efforts to reach agreement on the difficult issues under consideration in the Haass talks process,” he said.