Mayor of Belfast refuses to present award to Army cadet


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The Independent Online

Unionists have stepped up their demands for the Mayor of Belfast to apologise or resign for refusing to present an award to an Army cadet.

The row flared after Sinn Fein's Niall O Donnghaile said he declined to hand the prize to the teenage girl at a Duke of Edinburgh Awards ceremony in order to avoid raising sensitivities surrounding republicans and the British Army.

But unionists said the decision caused gross offence and they plan to petition Belfast City Council demanding an apology from the mayor.

The unionist motion added: "Failure to do so immediately would render his position untenable and he should resign."

Sinn Fein said unionists are ignoring other efforts by Mr O Donnghaile to reach out to the Protestant community, noting his decision to lay a wreath to troops who died at the Somme.

But after a Facebook campaign against the mayor was said to have attracted 3,000 backers, Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MP Sammy Wilson condemned his actions.

"It is an absolute disgrace that a young person should be snubbed in such a public manner as this.

"I am not at all surprised by the reaction.

"He has touched a raw nerve and caused deep anger."

Mr O Donnghaile, who at 26 is the city's youngest ever first citizen, has offered to meet the young cadet and her family to discuss his decision, which he said was "nothing personal".

"At the last minute I was informed that one of the awards was to be presented to a representative of the Army Cadet Force," he said.

"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.

"I take my responsibilities as being a mayor for all very seriously."

The issue is to be raised at a meeting of Belfast City Council tonight.

Democratic Unionist council representative Gavin Robinson condemned the mayor.

"It is very sad that we have a lord mayor, sold to us as youthful, dynamic and pragmatic, who is somebody who sought to politicise with his petty prejudices an event that marks the development of children," he said.

Sinn Fein's Martin O Muilleor, however, said unionists were attempting to undermine his party colleague.

"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 told the BBC.

"Today, the DUP deputy lord mayor will not talk to the Sinn Fein lord mayor, never mind shake his hand.

"So, whatever lessons we need to learn about outreach - and we all need to stretch ourselves in these matters - we won't be taking any lectures from the DUP."