A former mayor of Drogheda has hit out at Sinn Fein supporters who tried to ban the sale of the poppy from Queen’s University Students’ Union.
A motion – claiming the annual poppy appeal was a “politically charged” and “divisive initiative” – was defeated at the student council on Wednesday night by 40 votes to 15.
Sean Collins was mayor in Drogheda in November 1999 when he resurrected the cenotaph ceremony in the town. Poppy wreaths are now laid there annually in honour of Irishmen who fought in the British services in the First World War.
“I don’t think the poppy is divisive,” he told the News Letter yesterday.
“It is a simple memorial to those who gave their lives in the Great War, which took place before partition.”
There are 47,000 names of Irishmen on the National Monument in Dublin, he added.
Mr Collins – a former Fianna Fail member, now retired from politics – said that poppy fundraising had helped support ex-WW1 soldiers in the Republic “well into the 1990s”.
Money raised from the sale of poppies is still being used to support former soldiers in the south, he believes.
“It has since become a very popular event,” he said of the Drogheda cenotaph ceremony.
“I just felt that, as mayor, something had to be done. We had the names on our cenotaph of 400 people from the town who had died during the Great War, many of whom had families still living in the town.
“Many of these men were buried overseas and I felt we had to do something to remember them in their home town.
“There were some people who opposed me – and who even yet would stop me in the street to complain – but it was my decision as mayor.
“Sadly in Ireland, people are so hung up on emblems – if it is not the poppy, it is the Easter lily. I live in hope we will arrive at a day that people can celebrate their traditions without interference.”
Royal British Legion area manager Brian Maguire yesterday defended the symbol in the wake of the QUB Students’ Union vote.
“The poppy is an internationally-recognised symbol of remembrance and hope, and the Royal British Legion has always sought to maintain its exclusivity and neutrality,” he said.
“The wearing of a poppy is a personal choice, one made by millions of people every year.
“Remembrance is much too important to be politicised and, as a non-political, non-sectarian organisation, we will leave this debate to others.
“This year marks the centenary of the start of World War One, when tens of thousands of men from all parts of Ireland made the ultimate sacrifice. As the guardian of remembrance, our focus – as always – is on ensuring that the sacrifice of those who have served, and the sacrifice of those who continue to serve, is properly recognised.”
The media was refused entry to the Students’ Union debate on Wednesday night.
QUB student paper “The Gown” reported on Twitter that motion proposer Sean Fearon said the issue had become a “farce” due to media coverage. He stated the “integrity of the democratic body has been...compromised. We all accept the democratic decision of our peers”.
He added: “This is not an attempt to promote one ideology over the other, nor restrict personal freedoms. The poppy is a symbol for the many but not for all... this is incompatible with the inclusive atmosphere the SU should provide.”
A spokesman for the Equality Commission said the body has provided guidance for employers and for service providers on issues surrounding the use of emblems and symbols in the workplace.
“In that guidance we make our view clear: that the wearing of poppies, in a respectful manner and within the appropriate period, should not be regarded as something which would cause offence, and that there is no requirement under equality law to exclude people wearing poppies from the workplace or from other premises,” he said.
Sinn Fein said that it noted the democratic vote of the students, but offered no comment about the party’s own poppy policy.
See Morning View, page 44