Mixed messages over tributes to SF leaders

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Unionists have reacted with outrage following a proclamation by the mayor of New York last weekend naming March 17, 2018 as ‘Gerry Adams Day’.

Mayor Bill De Blasio made the announcement during the annual St Patrick’s Day event at his official residence, Gracie Mansion. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar also attended the breakfast.

“I, Bill de Blasio, mayor of the city of New York, do hereby proclaim March 17 2018 in the city of New York as ‘Gerry Adams Day’,” the proclamation read.

Mr de Blasio described Mr Adams was an activist who fought against injustice.

“He understood there’s no place in the world any more for colonialism and he fought against that with all that he had,” he said.

“Remember that great ideas never die, they may be set back sometimes, but they never die. And I honour Gerry Adams for his lifelong pursuit of a goal that makes that makes so much sense, the goal of a united Ireland.

“Gerry has in all he has done, accepted that a life of fighting for change came with peril, came with the threat of violence and the experience of being attacked. It came with condemnation, it came with arrest and times in jail.”

Mr Adams said he was honoured to receive the proclamation.

“I have to say that happy Gerry Adams Day doesn’t have the same ring as happy St Patrick’s Day,” he said.

“I would often reflect to myself: If you can all live here (in NYC) in relative harmony, if you can all live here together, surely in our small island we can create the conditions where our people can live in harmony and prosperity and peace and equality together?

“We still have a lot to do, we need rights, we need equality, we need a referendum on Irish unity so the people can decide for themselves.”

But the move provoked anger among unionists and Sinn Fein’s political rivals, some of whom believed that the honorary recognition would permanently rename St Patrick’s Day in the city.

Fianna Fail TD Darragh O’Brien branded it “ridiculous”.

DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson compared the move to a British mayor renaming St George’s Day after Osama Bin Laden, the Al Qaeda leader.

He said “There is no doubt Gerry Adams made a contribution to the peace process, but to name a day after him is wrong, it shouldn’t have happened.”

Steve Aiken of the Ulster Unionist Party described the proclamation as a “kick in the teeth for the victims of terrorism”.

“Bill de Blasio has already heard from and will continue to hear from the victims of IRA terrorists and their families,” he said.

However, unionists were broadly supportive of recognition this week for the late Deputy First Minister, Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness.

Speaking as an official portrait of the once IRA commander was unveiled at Stormont, a year after his death from a rare genetic disease, former UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said that Mr McGuinness was “missed” by some unionists.

“Martin McGuinness had a determination to try to make devolution work that is not universal within republicanism,” he said.

“For that, he is missed by some sectors of unionism including myself. I found him a man of political integrity.

“Martin McGuinness wanted to make Northern Ireland work.

“His thinking might have been that achieving that would make us more attractive to Dublin. But it doesn’t matter if his motivation was to facilitate a united Ireland, the fact remains that he really did want to be constructive.”

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