Sinn Fein have been encouraged to follow the lead of their candidate in the Irish presidential elections, who said she would be open to wearing a poppy.
Liadh Ni Riada, a Sinn Fein MEP, made the comments in a presidential debate screened by Irish broadcaster RTE on Monday night.
“I think it is a sign of maturity that if you wear a symbol, such as the poppy, that you are saying we have come this far in extending the hand of peace and friendship, and so, yes, I would if it came to that,” she said.
UUP MLA Steve Aiken, a former submarine commander in the Royal Navy, said Sinn Fein as a party could stand to learn from Ms Ni Riada’s position.
“The fact that an Irish presidential candidate openly wishes to discuss the idea of the poppy should be welcomed,” he told the News Letter.
Mr Aiken also described the wearing of a poppy as “something that should not be unexpected”.
He continued: “At least some members of Sinn Fein realise that it is part of normality to recognise the sacrifice of those who died – and so many people in Ireland, north and south, died in the First World War
“It is a pity that the Northern Ireland branch of Sinn Fein can’t have the same approach to equality and respect that some of their members in the south already seem to identify with.”
DUP MLA Gary Middleton expressed a similar view.
“If this is a genuine case and we take her at her word, then that is a step in the right direction,” he said.
“When you are in a position such as president of Ireland, respect must be shown to all traditions and to all those who fought and died in the world wars, many of whom were Irish men and women.”
The Foyle MLA continued: “I do hope that this wasn’t an off-the-cuff remark to get out of a sticky question. I hope that this was genuine and if it ever came to pass that if she is elected president – although I do think it is unlikely – that she would follow through on that.
“I don’t believe anyone should be forced to wear one – that is the point of the poppy that people should have the freedom to choose.
“It is interesting that Sinn Fein’s policy right across Northern Ireland appears to be very different. For example, the Sinn Fein mayor refused to lay a wreath at the city cenotaph in Londonderry, so the party seems to be very inconsistent in their approach.”
He added: “Obviously these comments from Sinn Fein’s presidential candidate have to be welcomed.”