The first Sinn Féin mayor of Belfast to take part in an Armistice Day commemoration has described the decision to attend as the hardest of his political career.
Máirtín Ó Muilleoir made history by participating in a two-minute silence for the war dead at the cenotaph at City Hall.
Republican politicians have previously boycotted November’s remembrance events in the North due to the association with the British military. However, past Sinn Féin mayors have laid non-poppy wreaths at the Belfast cenotaph to mark the Jul 1 anniversary of the Battle of Somme.
Mr Ó Muilleoir admitted he had done much soul searching prior to attending the Armistice Day event: “I think it’s the most difficult decision I have made in 30 years in politics and community activism.
“It is a challenge and I think that it had to be done. I think the peace and building the peace and building a better Belfast demands that we have to move ourselves into places where we are uncomfortable, which challenge us and which move us into new positions of peacemaking.”
He said his presence was him seeing through a pledge he made on taking office to be a mayor “for all the people of Belfast”.
“This is a huge event in the unionist calendar in particular and I wanted to show respect for unionist people and the Protestant people of Belfast by being at the cenotaph on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.”
He added: “It’s very difficult for Belfast’s republicans, many Belfast people, because of the experiences we have had with the British army over the last three decades, and more, to accept that a mayor who comes from a Sinn Féin tradition would be at the cenotaph.
“For those people, especially those hurt people, what I would say is this is the challenge of peacemaking, that it’s about remembering the dead, remembering the dead of that terrible slaughter which was the First World War.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved