One of Sinn Féin’s most senior councillors has quit the party in protest at Martin McGuinness’s meeting with English queen Elizabeth Windsor.
Angela Nelson, a member of the party for 42 years, said no welcome should be given to the monarchy in Ireland until Britain announces a complete withdrawal of its political and military presence in Ireland.
She said there had been no internal consultation in the party and she first heard that the Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister was to meet the British monarch through the media.
In a statement, Ms Nelson said she had been “confident that no meeting with the queen would occur as no open debate was taking place within the party”.
And she added: “I have always been able to hold my head up as a republican. I have met and maintained contact with many relatives of dead Volunteers and those murdered through collusion and British state violence.
“I could not set all those to one side through acceptance of the party leadership’s most recent ‘symbolic’ ‘significant gesture’.”
Ms Nelson was interned in Armagh women’s prison in 1973 at the age 17. From the St James’s area of west Belfast, she has been a Lisburn councillor since 2005 serving the areas of Twinbrook and Poleglass in the party’s traditional heartland.
A member of Sinn Fein for more than 40 years and an elected councillor since 2005, Ms Nelson represented the party on several committees on Lisburn City Council as well as a number of influential outside bodies up until her resignation.
The 54-year-old said that despite her resignation from the party she will retain her seat on Lisburn council as an independent.
“Last year republicans correctly decided not to greet Britain’s head of state or acknowledge her claim of sovereignty over part of our country,” Ms Nelson said in a statement.
She claimed that while a format for the meeting was being agreed by the leadership, party members were left in the dark, with all information coming “via the media”.
“On June 21 a text message informed me of a meeting for Belfast and Lisburn councillors in [Belfast] City Hall for a ‘briefing’.
“I instinctively knew it related to the visit. Past experience with these types of briefings indicated a deal was already done.”
Ms Nelson said she refused to attend the briefing but over the next two days expressed opposition to any meeting with the British monarch to party colleagues.
“On the second day, while in a party office, the media confirmed Martin McGuinness would meet the queen,” she said.
Since then Ms Nelson said she attended a protest organised in opposition to the queen’s visit.
Among those who addressed the protest was Eamon Cairns, whose two sons Gerard and Rory were murdered by loyalists in their County Armagh home in 1993. He finished with the sentence: “It makes it very difficult for me to see how Martin McGuinness can go behind doors and shake the hand dripping with the blood of my children.”
Mrs Nelson said his words reflected the views of many both inside and outside Sinn Fein.
She said she was not opposed to peace or ‘unionist outreach’ and had worked to oppose sectarianism in her community, but that she made no apologies for being a republican.
“As republicans, we oppose monarchy in all its forms. As republicans, we have no need to meet a British monarch, the commander-in-chief of Britain’s armed forces, while our country remains partitioned and many people are denied truth or justice about the deaths of their relatives by that same monarch’s government responsible for those murders.
“Reluctantly, I have no option but to resign from Sinn Fein, a party I first joined 42 years ago.
“I will remain as an independent councillor and continue to represent my community as I have done for the past seven years. I wish to reassure those people who elected me that I will represent their interests and will endeavour to carryout my duties to all my constituents to the best of my ability.”
The Sinn Fein leader on Lisburn council, Arder Carson, insisted the party had held meetings about the queen’s visit, but that Councillor Nelson had not attended.
He said Ms Nelson had “done much good work in the Dunmurry Cross area and has made a valuable contribution”.
“I was disappointed to learn in the media this morning that Angela had decided to resign from the party,” he said.
“As a party we will continue to move forward representing people locally on Lisburn council and nationally driving forward our united Ireland agenda.”