The Alliance party has surprised a former UUP mayor of Belfast by saying it will oppose efforts by Sinn Fein to have the Easter Lily sold in Belfast City Hall.
Sinn Fein group leader on the council provoked anger on Remembrance Sunday weekend when he publicly called for Easter lilies to be sold in Belfast City Council in the same manner as poppies.
He also called on the council and the Equality Commission to change their policies and allow council employees to wear the Easter lily at work as they do poppies.
The commission defends the rights of employees to wear the poppy, which represents those who have died fighting for the UK armed forces and is not deemed to be directly linked to the Troubles.
However it regards the Easter lily, commemorating the 1916 Easter Rising and long associated with the IRA, as having the potential to be divisive in the workplace and being “directly linked” to the Troubles or local politics.
DUP councillor Lee Reynolds strongly opposed Sinn Fein’s call, but said that in reality the council position on the matter would be decided by Alliance Party councillors, who hold the balance of power between nationalist and unionist votes in the council.
But Belfast Alliance councillor Kate Nicholl said unequivocally that her party would oppose the proposed Sinn Fein motion.
“The Easter lily was viewed by the Court of Appeal of Northern Ireland as a ‘conflict emblem’ and therefore not easily justifiable in a place of work,” Ms Nicholl told the News Letter.
“It held that restricting its wearing was proportionate because it could cause offence.
“Poppies and shamrocks are seen as purely commemorative of traditions, so not likely to be offensive, but lilies (Easter or orange) are different.
“Secondly, The Equality Commission’s Guide for Employers and Employees titled ‘Promoting a Good and Harmonious Working Environment’ does not view the Easter Lily as appropriate in the workplace.
“For these reasons Alliance will oppose any motion supporting the sale or wearing of Easter lilies in Belfast City Council’s workplaces.”
But former Belfast Lord Mayor Jim Rodgers was not reassured by her comments.
“The Alliance Party has changed their minds on so many things in this council over the years,” he said.
“I would not be surprised if they backtrack on this to keep up good relations with Sinn Fein. But in my mind no right thinking person will support this motion.
“It is well-known on Belfast City Council now that Sinn Fein and Alliance work very closely together. There have been so many joint moves by them in the past on issues that previously Alliance would not have run with.
“The most obvious one was Alliance voting with Sinn Fein to stop the Union flag from flying daily above City Hall.
“Ever since Anna Lo came out in support of a united Ireland in 2014 the party has increasingly been courting the green vote.”