Maskey decision to lay Somme wreath praised
Unionists have welcomed the decision by the Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Belfast, Mr Alex Maskey, to lay a wreath at the Cenotaph in Belfast in honour of those who died at the Battle of the Somme.
However, they have criticised his decision not to attend the official ceremony next Monday. Mr Maskey will lay a laurel wreath two hours before the main event. He will also chair the council meeting beforehand.
Sinn Féin has traditionally boycotted Somme commemorations. The decision that Mr Maskey should lay a wreath privately has caused dissention in party ranks, particularly in the Lurgan and Portadown areas.
An Ulster Unionist councillor, Mr Chris McGimpsey, welcomed Sinn Féin's gesture but said the new Lord Mayor should be attending the full ceremony.
"As first citizen, he said he wished to represent all the people of Belfast and, to do that, he should attend a commemoration which is important to unionists.
"He should simply be attending in order to lay a wreath on behalf of the people of Belfast and leave afterwards."
Mr McGimpsey said he did not think unionists could be offended by Mr Maskey's presence at the ceremony.
"I don't think unionists could complain if he attended and paid tribute to their traditions. As Mayor, he is expected to be there."
The former Ulster Unionist lord mayor, Mr Jim Rodgers, said Mr Maskey's gesture was a "positive step forward".
A DUP councillor, Mr Sammy Wilson, condemned Mr Maskey's decision. "For the first time in 80 years, the ceremony will not include the Lord Mayor.
"It is the Mayor's civic responsibility - a responsibility he is not carrying out. Basically, he is snubbing the actual ceremony."
However, Mr Maskey's announcement was welcomed as "an important step forward" by Alliance councillor Mr David Alderdice.
"I am sure it was difficult for him to see it but it was a mark of maturity. It is as much as we could have hoped for and more than the unionists on the council could have expected.
"Most people will see it as a positive step and it is to be welcomed. Hopefully, it will act as a spark to others in our community to show leadership," he said.