SF ‘will present awards to Army cadets in future’

Sinn Fein has changed its policy in Belfast City Hall after the party said yesterday that its representatives would present a Duke of Edinburgh award to an Army cadet in the future, a DUP MLA has claimed.

William Humphrey said the move justified the DUP’s persistence over the matter.

And yesterday Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness criticised his own party colleague’s actions, describing Lord Mayor Niall O Donnghaile’s snub of an Army cadet as “undoubtedly a mistake”.

It comes a week after the Lord Mayor backed out of presenting a Duke of Edinburgh award to a teenage girl because she was a member of the Army cadets.

Mr O Donnghaile offered an apology last week in which he said that he accepted his controversial decision not to present the award to the cadet had caused “genuine annoyance” and apologised to “anyone” who was offended.

Mr McGuinness welcomed the apology and said there is a commitment that the mistake will not be repeated, but warned that others should not seek to inflame the situation.

Unionist councillors called a special meeting of the council on Monday night to deal with the issue.

At that meeting, DUP group leader Robin Newton sought assurances that a similar incident would not happen again, but this was voted down and instead an Alliance proposal that the council accept the apology was passed.

However, yesterday Sinn Fein said the Lord Mayor is prepared to meet an Army cadet in future.

Jim McVeigh, who is the party’s group leader on Belfast City Council, said that in future a republican Lord Mayor would present a Duke of Edinburgh’s award to an Army cadet. “We are all learning lessons from what happened,” he said.

“If we go to an event in the future we will not be asking where they are from.

“I am sure that any republican Lord Mayor will be handing them out.”

However, Mr McVeigh said there were some events that a republican Lord Mayor would never attend, for example a homecoming event for soldiers.

North Belfast MLA and councillor William Humphrey said the move indicated “a shift in Sinn Fein policy”.

This, he said, “vindicates the approach of unionist councillors in pressurising Sinn Fein on the Lord Mayor’s refusal to present a Duke of Edinburgh award to an Army cadet”.

“This poses the question, why did the Lord Mayor not state that position at any of the previous opportunities, including at the special council meeting?” he said.