Category: Archive

Maskey honors Somme’s dead

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Anne Cadwallader

BELFAST — On a wet Monday morning, watched only by reporters, two priests and some curious commuters on their way to work, Sinn Fein’s first lord mayor of Belfast, Alex Maskey, laid a wreath to commemorate the “supreme sacrifice” of all those who died in World War I.

Breaking with republican tradition of commemorating only those who fought for “Neither King nor Kaiser,” Maskey and 12 fellow Sinn Fein councilors marked the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme by staging their own commemoration.

Neither Maskey nor anyone from the Sinn Fein group joined in the more militaristic official commemoration at the City Hall cenotaph later in the morning of July 1 — instead saying they want a public debate to devise a new, all-inclusive civic ceremony.

The feedback from both traditions in the community, Unionist and Nationalist, has been positive, Maskey said, although Unionists boycotted his installation dinner on Saturday night.

Explaining the thinking behind his decision to honor the dead of the Somme, Maskey said: “I am an Irish republican. I am a peacemaker. Many people from different political and religious backgrounds from Belfast contributed to the peace process. I want to use my year in office as mayor to represent all the people of this city. That is what Irish republicanism stands for. That is what making peace is all about.

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“We have to come to terms with the cultural identity of the Unionist and Protestant people and the manner in which they express [their] identity. This is what we all need to take on board when considering and making decisions about symbols, emblems, memorials and commemorations. And that does not mean having to subsume one’s own political allegiance in another’s. It means identifying the common ground and being willing to share it.

Sammy Wilson, a DUP councilor in Belfast, was not impressed with Maskey’s decision. He said it showed the essential sectarian bigotry of Sinn Fein. It was the first time, he said, that the lord mayor of Belfast had not led the official military commemoration.

“The mayor has snubbed this solemn ceremony for the first time”, he said, “purely on the basis of his own political sectarianism, despite his attempts to throw a smokescreen over what he has done.”

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