U-turn on Sinn Fein decision to block rose bush for Queen’s platinum jubilee at Stormont

Stormont has performed an apparent u-turn over a decision by Sinn Fein to block unionists from planting a rose bush at Stormont to mark the Queen’s platinum jubilee.

Last month the DUP called called for an equality investigation into a decision to prevent a tree being planted on the Stormont estate to mark Queen Elizabeth’s platinum jubilee.

The party accused Sinn Féin Finance Minister Conor Murphy of “intolerance and disrespect” after he declined approval for the tree planting. The DUP wrote to the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, which oversees adherence to equality laws in the region, asking for the decision to be investigated.

Last week DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson cited the decision by Sinn Fein as one of a list of reasons why the party’s first minister Paul Givan felt he had to step down.

Queen Elizabeth II photographed at Sandringham House, which is the Queen's Norfolk residence, to mark the start of Her Majesty's Platinum Jubilee Year.

However tonight, Assembly Speaker Alex Maskey issued an apparent u-turn to all MLAs. In an unusual step, the letter was also circulated widely and directly to the media by Stormont officials.

“I want to inform you of two decisions which the Northern Ireland Assembly Commission took unanimously at its meeting today,” Mr Maskey wrote.

“The Assembly Commission agreed a request from the Assembly Branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association to plant a tree to mark the Platinum Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on the grounds adjacent to Parliament Buildings which are controlled by the Assembly Commission.”

He said the commission also agreed that the designated days on which the Union Flag is flown from Parliament Buildings for this year will be amended to replace the 19 February - Prince Andrew’s Birthday - with 1 July, the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme.

Unionist anger built up last year after a series of decisions by Sinn Fein to block their commemorations. Sinn Féin vetoed a proposal put to the Assembly Commission to place a commemorative stone in Stormont’s Parliament Buildings to mark Northern Ireland’s centenary.

Last year, Mr Murphy, who has control of the grounds of Stormont as Finance Minister, also turned down a DUP request to plant a commemorative rose bush to mark Northern Ireland’s centenary within the Stormont estate.

Away from Stormont, there was a similar row at Belfast City Council in October when Sinn Féin blocked a proposal to light up City Hall to mark the centenary.

DUP Upper Bann MLA Diane Dodds said tonight: “This is sensible. It is unfortunate that Sinn Fein vetoed previous attempts to mark Her Majesty the Queen’s milestone as monarch and the centenary of Northern Irelande.

“Sinn Fein vetoed unionist MLAs donating a centenary stone to be placed inside Parliament Buildings, they vetoed the illuminating of the building to mark the centenary, the Communities Minister declined to provide funding to mark the Platinum Jubilee and the Finance Minister rejected an application to plant a centenary rose in the grounds of Stormont.

“Conor Murphy’s narrowness stands in contrast to Sammy Wilson who, as Finance Minister in 2015, permitted the GAA to plant a tree and mark 125 years of the GAA. Sammy Wilson showed maturity and leadership whilst Sinn Fein has shown pettiness and an attitude that they don’t want a unionist about the place.”

Sinn Fein has been invited to comment.

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