A MLA has voiced disappointment that some DUP politicians failed to attend a church service to commemorate The Fallen - and claimed they did so because a priest was present.
But the DUP has slammed the claim as “unseemly and inaccurate”.
Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie was speaking after a service at Shankill Parish Church in Lurgan on Sunday to dedicate the names of the Fallen from both world wars which had been missing from War Memorial.
There is a second service this Sunday to dedicate the names of those who were omitted to the Portadown War Memorial.
Mr Beattie said: “I have spent over 36 years in the military and at no stage did I ask or need to know anyone’s religion. I have lost friends and colleagues from both traditional communities in Northern Ireland and more from around the country.
“Therefore I was disappointed that some - and I must stress it was some - DUP Councillors felt they could not attend a church service within Shankill Parish Church to dedicate the names of our fallen from both world wars that had been missing from the Lurgan War Memorial for nearly 100 years.
“It is not to attack to say that I was disappointed, it is a genuine expression of regret that because a Roman Catholic Priest was participating in the service they felt that they could not attend.
“It was my party colleagues within Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council, particularly the Mayor Julie Flaherty and Army reservist Cllr Glenn Barr, who brought the Motion to council to ensure those names that had been omitted be given their rightful place on the war memorial in both Lurgan and Portadown and further afield in the Borough. They did so without delving into the religion of each man or woman that was to be added.
“Of course it is for others to decide what they feel is tolerable and I understand how religious beliefs are very personal.
“However, as someone who has served, I place huge store in remembering our war dead, particularly those who fought side by side in two world wars.
“I believe it is incumbent on us all to reach out and challenge ourselves on issues like this. Those who chose not to attend failed to give due recognition and respect to those who gave their tomorrow for our today in a war that few fully understood at the time.
“I believe that at the very least we should set aside this type of intolerance and be united in our remembrance and reflection.”
“If this was a one-off then I believe it was a bad decision. However the reality is that there were reports from France in July this year that some councillors from the Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council refused to attend some of the remembrance events, particularly those around the Guillemont, again because they had a cross community religious element. This plays into the us and them narrative, when for those that shared the trenches – be they 36th Ulster Division, the 16th Irish Division, or other independent Irish battalions in different Divisions - there was no us and them, just a desperate fight to stay alive in the mud and the blood, the fear and the strain, the death and the destruction.”
“If your religious beliefs mean you cannot attend an event then don’t attend. But if you decide to go because there is a photo opportunity only to sneak off when entering the church because there is a priest involved then I feel you have let yourself down, let unionism down and more importantly, let those that sacrificed so much for our freedoms down. There is no religion in a trench apart from that between the individual and his own private prayers and thoughts to God.”
Cllr Baxter said he had a prior family engagement so couldn’t attend the service last Sunday.
He said: “As we approach the 100th anniversary of armistice day our focus should be on paying tribute to the people from all backgrounds, religions and races who fought and gave their lives during the Great War. Not some petty party political fight. If the UUP has to stoop this low to attack the DUP they should be ashamed.
“In Lurgan at the weekend there was a cross-denominational element to the ceremony held at the War Memorial as well as the later church service. I attended the cross-community service at the war memorial but not the church. I had another prior family engagement . Some colleagues attended both and others attended none. But regardless we all stand united in tribute to those who gave all.
“Unseemly and inaccurate claims about the attendance of Councillors at events both at home and in France do nothing to give due recognition and respect to those who gave their tomorrow for our today.
“Out of respect for those who organised a dignified and solemn ceremony of remembrance we will not allow the event to be dragged further into the mire of party politics.”