Sinn Fein has been accused of “hijacking” a meeting of Belfast City Council after councillors staged a protest in support of the people of Catalonia.
Republican members attended Monday’s monthly meeting in city hall wearing specially made t-shirts emblazoned with the slogan “Ireland stands with Catalonia’.
Unionists have branded the move a “political stunt” and claimed Sinn Fein is using the plight of the Catalans in a bid to further their agenda.
It comes after the Spanish government launched a violent crackdown at the weekend in an attempt to block voting in the Catalonian independence referendum.
The result of the referendum, deemed ‘illegal’ by the Spanish government, revealed that 90% had voted for independence from Spain.
During the October meeting of Belfast City Council, Sinn Fein councillor Jim McVeigh interrupted proceedings and asked his party colleagues to stand, stating: “We are going to hold a protest to send a message to the Spanish government that we stand with the people of Catalonia, that the repression of democracy and the right to self determination is not acceptable.”
Others parties including People Before Profit and the SDLP also stood during the protest, but unionists stayed in their seats.
DUP Alderman Brian Kingston told the News Letter yesterday that other parties on the council had not been informed of Sinn Fein’s intentions to hold a protest during the meeting.
He added: “Sinn Fein simply hijacked the meeting and I was surprised that the lord mayor allowed it to happen.
“It was nothing more than a stunt aimed at garnering attention for Sinn Fein. But it is typical of Sinn Fein to pull something like this on Belfast City Council, as they think they have the run of the place.
“I thought it was ironic that Sinn Fein was supporting the idea of a landmass wanting to break away and decide its own destiny, in much the same way Northern Ireland did almost a century ago.”
UUP Alderman Chris McGimpsey also slammed Sinn Fein’s actions and said the party was attempting to “claim the Catalonia issue for themselves”.
He added: “If they had really wanted to show their solidarity with the people of Catalonia they would have followed the proper procedures and asked other parties to join them in writing to the Spanish government.
“Instead they chose to freeze everyone else out and do as they please, which is becoming an increasingly common tactic for Sinn Fein on Belfast City Council.”
Sinn Fein councillor Deirdre Hargey said her party was happy to express its solidarity with the Catalan people.
She added: “When it was raised at full council no other parties raised any objection.
“The people of Catalonia faced violent repression on Sunday from the Spanish state as they went to exercise their democratic rights
“The actions of the Spanish police stand in stark contrast to the thousands of Catalans who have patiently and peacefully exercised their right to vote.”