Breakthrough for equality of symbolism in Derry

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Derry City and Strabane council is set to be the first council in the north of Ireland to allow staff members to honour Ireland’s war dead by wearing an Easter Lily, a symbol with its roots in the 1916 Easter Rising.

But the decision by a council committee has angered unionists who associate the Lily with the Provisional IRA and refuse to accept that it could be on a par with the British poppy.

The decision will now be brought before a full council meeting in the coming weeks where it is expected to be ratified. It will be the first time a local authority will officially enable the option of wearing an Easter Lily.

Council staff will also be allowed to wear the Poppy emblem, which is worn in the run up to Remembrance Sunday each year in memory of British soldiers killed in various conflicts.

It is understood the motion was first brought forward by independent councillor Paul Gallagher two years ago. Mr Gallagher said his motion “was about inclusivity”.

“It is historical and ground breaking that it would be the first council in the north to allow staff to wear the lily,” he said. “The Equality Commission said throughout the consultation that if council was to support this it would be very progressive.”

But DUP councillor David Ramsey said the issue “created division”. He said he perceived the lily as “a symbol for the Provisional IRA and prisoners”.

“The Easter Lily and the Poppy are being seen as being on par. That is not possible,” he declared.

Sinn Fein councillor, Michael Cooper said the Lilly was a symbol for anyone who lost their lives “in the name of Irish freedom.”

He said the decision is an “example of inclusive politics”.

“This was considered by the working group over a lengthy period of time,” Mr Cooper said.

“We took the advice of the Equality Commission and trade unions and this is about giving people the right to wear one.

“There was cross-party representation on the group, including the DUP and UUP, and when the evidence was considered, it was clear that the wearing of Easter Lilies - just like the Poppy - is entirely consistent with a harmonious and inclusive working environment.”

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