Former Belfast mayor: Sinn Fein have changed their tune after foolishly negative stance towards unionist events

A former mayor of Belfast has said Sinn Fein has softened its stance towards expressions of unionist culture – most likely because it was not “playing well” with its own voter base.

By Adam Kula
Tuesday, 22nd February 2022, 7:40 pm
A parade makes its way up The Mall from Horse Guards Parade to Buckingham Palace, central London, following a previous Trooping the Colour ceremony on the Queen's birthday
A parade makes its way up The Mall from Horse Guards Parade to Buckingham Palace, central London, following a previous Trooping the Colour ceremony on the Queen's birthday

Brian Kingston made the comments to the News Letter after it was revealed that Belfast City Council has earmarked up to £100,000 to be spent on local-level celebrations of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee (marking 70 years on the throne).

The DUP councillor said this was agreed at the Strategic Policy and Resources committee, without any objections from Sinn Fein.

The sums will still have to be ratified by the full council at the start of March.

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The £100,000 is to be parcelled out in batches of up to £2,000, to support things like street parties in the city.

The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee weekend will take place from Thursday June 2 to Sunday June 5; the May Bank Holiday weekend will be moved to Thursday June 2 and there will be an additional bank holiday on Friday June 3 – culminating in a four-day weekend.

In addition to the jubilee fund above, the council will light a jubilee beacon, there will be a market in the grounds of city hall, and programme entitled ‘Belfast 1952’ will transform No.2 Royal Avenue into a 1950s-themed venue.

MONEY SECURED FOR OTHER CULTURAL EVENTS:

Alongside the money for the jubilee, the council committee has also agreed £100,000 for Irish cultural events, plus £50,000 for ethnic minority events, and £50,000 for gay and transgender events.

When it comes to the demographics of the city, in terms of indicating how many people may be likely to want to mark such events, in the 2011 census roughly 43% of the city’s population had a British national identity, 35% had an Irish national identity, and 27% had a Northern Irish identity (note: people could choose more than one category).

According to the News Letter’s calculations based on census data, about 3.2% of the city’s population were non-white or mixed at the time of the census, and roughly 2.7% of the white population had come from continental Europe.

Meanwhile, getting figures for sexuality is hard, since the census in 2011 just didn’t ask the question.

However, the Office for National Statistics found that in 2015 roughly 0.8% of the NI population was gay, while 1.1% described themselves as bisexual.

‘WE HAVE NO PROBLEM MARKING JUBILEE...’

Sinn Fein Councillor Ciaran Beattie said: “We have absolutely no problem with people who want to celebrate the Queen’s jubilee in the city, and we will do everything we can to facilitate that, but there is a recognition in this paper that we look at all cultures.”

However, in the past year Sinn Fein has hit the headlines many times for blocking both jubilee and NI centenary tributes.

Last November, First Minister Paul Givan said the Executive Office had not been able to agree any timetable of events marking the jubilee.

He said: “It is right that we mark the occasion. It will be a test of how republicans and nationalists in particular recognise and facilitate those in our community who want to pay tribute and celebrate what is a historic occasion for Her Majesty The Queen...

“After some good work by those in Sinn Féin who reached out to and met members of the royal family, I hope that they are not now recanting and taking a backward step.”

Jim Allister said at the time: “Is there not a pattern here?

“The Sinn Fein Communities Minister has already refused a community fund to mark the jubilee, the Sinn Fein Finance Minister has refused to allow a tree to be planted in the grounds of Stormont, and now the deputy First Minister completes the trilogy of bigotry by blocking moves in the Executive Office.”

‘THEY HAVE CHANGED THEIR TUNE’:

As to what has changed, Brian Kingston (who was the city’s Lord Mayor in 2017) told the News Letter: “I think they were foolishly negative towards the NI centenary, and I made that point to them, for a party that claims to have signed up to the principle of consent.

“They were needlessly ungenerous, even wouldn’t let City Hall be lit up, which most people wouldn’t have noticed.

“They clearly I think must’ve decided this was playing badly for them...

“They’ve now consented to this community funding and one of the civic events will be the lighting of the City Hall in the colour purple, which I think is the colour for the platinum jubilee.

“They have changed their tune. We hope that’ll continue throughout Her Majesty’s platinum jubilee celebrations.”

In terms of the crises which have engulfed the monarchy over the last two years (mainly Prince Andrew’s ties to Jeffrey Epstein, and Prince Harry and Meghan’s public airing of grievances against the royal family), councillor Kingston said: “Unfortunately there have always been wider events within the royal family.

“I think whatever happens with other members, it only emphasises what a steadying influence and symbol of continuity the Queen has been over 70 years.

“All the more reason to celebrate her long reign.

“And as we look ahead, I think the monarchy will be in good hands.”

More from this reporter:

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