SINN Fein have tried to prevent a proposal to invite a representative from the Republic of Ireland for the first time to Belfast for Remembrance Sunday.
SDLP councillor Pat McCarthy proposed last night at the monthly meeting of Belfast City Council to invite a representative from the Irish government to Remembrance events.
The Irish government has never before been officially invited.
Mr McCarthy told the News Letter before the meeting that with other countries including Canada and Poland represented at the council’s Remembrance events, he felt it was time to ask Ulster’s closest neighbour.
Mr McCarthy proposed that, in consultation with the Royal British Legion, the council should “extend an invitation to the Republic of Ireland to participate from 2012 onwards in the commemoration to mark the Battle of the Somme and the Remembrance Sunday ceremony at the cenotaph in Belfast”.
He told the meeting that he felt the time was right after the historic visit of the Queen to Dublin last year when she paid tribute to fallen republicans at Dublin’s garden of remembrance.
DUP councillor Christopher Stalford said he was happy to second the motion, describing it as a sign of how far the relationship between the UK and the Republic of Ireland had come.
And Alliance councillor Maire Hendron lent the backing of her party.
However, Sinn Fein councillor Jim McVeigh said his party would not support the proposal, saying he and his colleagues believe it is “premature”, and “ill thought-out”.
SDLP councillor Tim Attwood challenged him on this, asking if the visit of Irish taoiseach Enda Kenny to the cenotaph during his Belfast trip last year was premature.
Mr McVeigh went on to say he had recently found out his grandmother’s brother had fought and died in the First World War and that he and his family plan to travel to France to lay a wreath in his memory.
In response, DUP councillor William Humphrey asked in that case why was he not comfortable inviting the Irish government to Remembrance events in Belfast.
Mr McVeigh said that while he respected the bravery of the men who fought in the First World War, as a republican and socialist he was opposed to that “imperialist war”.
DUP councillor Robin Newton said he was “absolutely confused” by Sinn Fein’s position.
Sinn Fein went on to propose an amendment to the motion, calling for the council to continue to work together with others – including the Irish government – over the coming decade.
This was defeated by 30 votes to 15, with only Sinn Fein councillors voting for it.
The original motion was then passed by 30 votes to none, with Sinn Fein councillors choosing to abstain.
Current Lord Mayor Niall O Donnghaile chose not to attend the Remembrance Sunday event last November.