Belfast Mayor slammed for attending Easter Rising ceremony

The nationalist Lord Mayor of Belfast was accused of insulting unionists today by attending a wreath-laying ceremony for republicans killed in the 1916 Easter Rising.

SDLP mayor Martin Morgan joined President Mary McAleese and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern for the commemoration at Dublin’s Arbour Hill cemetery.

However, his presence was denounced by Democratic Unionist Sammy Wilson, who accused Mr Morgan of courting a republican vote as he prepared to contest next month’s European Parliament election for the SDLP.

The mayor, whose grandfather William Mullan was a member of the Irish Army colour party which accompanied 1916 rebel Padraig Pearse’s body to the graveyard, joined Dublin Mayor Royston Brady at the ceremony.

He said: “I was invited as Lord Mayor of Belfast and felt I really had to come.

“During my term of office I have had an inclusive approach to commemorations from whatever community.

“I have laid a wreath at the Cenotaph in Belfast to commemorate the British war dead.

“The fact is that there were many Belfast men and women involved in the events of 1916 and I believe that that should be marked if we are to adopt a truly inclusive approach to the various cultures and traditions on this island.

“I also felt I should attend given my own family connections to the Irish Army.”

Mr Morgan, who wore his chain of office during the ceremony, was greeted by President McAleese.

A tricolour flew at half mast and a minute’s silence was observed for the 14 rebels buried at the Easter Rising plot.

Mr Wilson, however, said many people in Belfast would be appalled by the Lord Mayor’s presence at the ceremony.

The East Antrim MLA, who is also a Belfast councillor, said it could harm Mr Morgan’s chances in the June 11 election as he bids to hold on to former SDLP leader John Hume’s European Parliament seat.

Mr Wilson argued: “Many citizens in Belfast, particularly in the unionist community, will be alarmed that he attended this ceremony officially as Lord Mayor because they see it as giving credence to those who have carried out terrorist acts against them over the past 35 years.

“Let’s be very clear. The events of 1916 were very much a prelude to the terrorism we have experienced in Northern Ireland and the rebels were involved in the kind of activities the IRA have engaged in more recent times.

“This is fairly typical of Martin Morgan, who speaks with a velvet tongue to unionists but acts with a steel hand when it comes to republican causes.

“He likes to present a soft image but has a hard edge when it comes to establishing his republican credentials.

“Martin Morgan may have done this to curry favour with republicans to help him defeat Bairbre de Brun in the election, but if he is also looking for unionist transfers to help him, this will have done enormous damage to his credibility.”

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