O Donnghaile issues apology over royal award ceremony
O Donnghaile issues apology over royal award ceremony

The mayor of Belfast, Sinn Fein’s Niall O Donnghaile, has been condemned by unionists for not presenting a Duke of Edinburgh award to a British Army cadet at a ceremony in Belfast.

The Sinn Fein’s man decision not to personally hand the award to the trainee British soldier angered unionist hardliners and became a prominent news topic for the pro-unionist Six County media.

Mr O Donnghaile later issued an apology to anyone who was offended by the decision, which he said was due to the need to avoid “unnecessary sensitivities”.

Nevertheless, a crowd of loyalists gathered outside city hall on Thursday to stage a protest and call for his resignation.

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

“At the last minute I was informed that one of the awards was to be presented to a representative of the Army Cadet Force,” Mr O Donnghaile explained.

“In order to avoid any unnecessary sensitivities to either party, it was arranged for the outgoing chairman of the organisation to present some of the certificates alongside me.

“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.”

Unionists have said Sinn Fein mayor Niall O Donnghaile’s decision not to congratulate the British Army cadet was “shameful”.

“So much for Sinn Fein’s fine rhetoric about a shared future,” fumed Ulster Unionist Assembly member and former television news presenter, Mike Nesbitt. “So much for an Ireland of equals.”

DUP councillor Gavin Robinson said Mr O Donnghaile had “politicised” the awards ceremony.

“He has taken a step back from where his Sinn Fein predecessors were five years ago.”

Sinn Fein officials have denied that Mr O Donnghaile’s action represented a shift away from the party’s support of normalisation in the North.

Martin O Muilleor and a councillor on Belfast city council accused unionists of attempting to derail a “progressive” mayor.

“We won’t be taking any lectures on inclusion from the DUP. These are the people who, for 100 years, would not have a Catholic lord mayor, never mind a Sinn Fein lord mayor,” he said.

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