Wednesday 25 April 2012

Belfast's Lord Mayor to resign early in order to avoid meeting the Queen

Only a few weeks after officially unveiling the city's beautiful new memorial gardens to mark the centenary of the Titanic disaster, the Lord Mayor of Belfast, Niall O Donnghaile (26), the youngest incumbent of the office in history, is to resign early from his post in order to avoid meeting Her Majesty the Queen during the 2012 Diamond Jubilee celebrations. An official visit by the Sovereign to Northern Ireland will be an accepted part of the Jubilee festivities, although Buckingham Palace has not yet confirmed a date.

Mr O Donnghaile is a member of Sinn Fein, the left-wing republican party strongly in favour of Irish unification. It is currently the second largest political party in Northern Ireland, with 29 seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly. (The largest party is the right-wing, pro-British Democratic Unionist Party, with 38 seats; in third place is another conservative, pro-British party, the Ulster Unionists, with 18.) Mr O Donnghaile's successor is tipped to be a member of the DUP, Mr Gavin Robinson, but Mr O Donnghaile's refusal to associate himself with the monarchist Jubilee means that the election for his replacement has been moved forward to Friday June 1st, the day before the official nationwide Jubilee celebrations begin.

Sources from within Belfast City Hall have confirmed that for the first time in Belfast's history standing orders have been changed to allow the new Lord Mayor to be elected at a meeting on that Friday.  Normally, only special meetings are held on Fridays.

Speaking on behalf of Sinn Fein, Mr J. McVeigh, the group's party leader on Belfast City Council, said: “We knew that the Jubilee celebrations were coming up and had a discussion with the DUP about that. We were happy to come out of that role and they were happy to come in a little bit early because of the issue of the anniversary. We as republicans obviously are not keen to celebrate the Jubilee in any shape or form. But, we have supported the recent round of funding when it came before council and we are happy for unionists to celebrate if they so wish. But, it is not something that we would be involved in as republicans. This is as much about accommodating the unionists as about us not wanting to be part of the Jubilee celebrations. We are republicans and have no great love for the royalty in any shape or form. We do not want to be part of the celebrations. A unionist Mayor would love to be on that seat when a member of the Royalty or maybe even the Queen herself comes to Belfast.”

Apparently, since Mr O Donnghaile's term was nearly up anyway, the decision was reached by general consensus between the unionists and republicans on the council. In February, many of the Sinn Fein councillors had voted to approve the spending of £56,000 (about USD 90,000) towards local community organisations across Belfast who wanted to organise their own celebrations for the Diamond Jubilee.

Some other unionists, however, are apparently angry at Mr O Donnghaile's decision and describe it as a snub to the apparently apolitical nature of the Lord Mayor's office and to the wider Protestant community in Belfast. Last year, one of the most prominent figures in Sinn Fein, Martin McGuinness, unsuccessfully ran for the presidency of the Irish republic; when asked in interviews if he would meet the Queen when she made a state visit to Ireland, McGuinness replied that, as prospective President, he would. In light of his colleague's promise to honour the office before personal political predilection, some unionist criticism of Mr O Donnghaile has been correspondingly severe. And not for the first time. 

Last year, the current Lord Mayor sparked another political storm in Northern Ireland after he refused to present a certificate to a 14-year-old Army cadet during a Duke of Edinburgh awards ceremony. The Army cadets prepare young people for a career in the Armed Forces and the Duke of Edinburgh awards scheme was one established by the Queen's husband, His Royal Highness Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. The Award programme offers chances to participate in physical, mental and skills-based improvement programmes across the United Kingdom to young people aged between fourteen and twenty-four, regardless of ability or background. The Duke's award offers a huge range of such programmes and Mr O Donnghaile had handed out certificates to many participants, but refused to for the 14 year-old Army cadet. The backlash against the decision was strong, even from many Irish nationalist politicians. He also caused outrage amongst unionists and liberals when he became Lord Mayor of Belfast last year and insisted upon removing royal portraits from his parlour.

Speaking of his decision to step-down a few weeks early, the former Lord Mayor of Belfast, Jim Rodgers, a member of the centre-right Ulster Unionist Party, said, "It is definitely a snub... When I was Lord Mayor I met a wide range of people from both sides. I was criticised both publicly and privately for it — but I believe you have to lead to the city and you have to be above politics. Unfortunately this current Lord Mayor has been one of the most political that I can remember in more than 20 years in council." 


  1. I am not unsympathetic to any nation becoming an independent republic, without any connection to the royal family. Royalty is a concept that served us well for a long time, but no longer.

    But it is clear that many unionists would indeed be angry at Mr O Donnghaile's decision. It is juvenile in the extreme to throw a hissy fit given, as you say, the apolitical nature of the Lord Mayor's office. If he doesn't want to go meet the queen, he should quietly develop the flu on the morning of the ceremony and send his deputy instead.

    My sons used to throw hissy fits when they didn't get what they wanted. A 26 year old is still a boy.

  2. Great comment, Hels, although I'd have to respectfully disagree with your comment about royalty being of no further use. I think they are much more unifying than elected politicians, who tend to be divisive, and they exemplify lives of service offered to the Nation. Tonight, watching the Queen meet with survivors of the Aberfan disaster and listening to how much comfort they have and their families have taken from over a generation of royal support and involvement made me appreciate again what was shown so powerfully by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's Wedding last year - the power of Royalty to unite and inspire a country across a generational level, rather than simply an electoral one. As Burke said, logic should not be how we judge things like royalty, but by their emotional impact and value. That's my own opinion on it, anyway.

  3. The idea that the Mayor's office is an apolitical one is a nonsense. Niall Ó'Donnghaile remains a Sinn Féin member and Councilor as Gavin Robinson will remain a DUP member and councilor when he takes over the office.

  4. Hi Gareth,
    Hope all is going well. Just to let you know I replied to your emails so hope they make for a nice read when you're free sometime. :)
    Best wishes

  5. Indeed the Lord Mayor is nothing more than a spoiled little bou, I wonder how many times he has taken his ball home and refused to play. I can only assume that this is a paid position and I would bet that he has never refused to take a pay cheque, even though the account that the funds come from is probably subsidized by the British government purse. My initial reaction to this petulant clown's action was to cancel my vacation plans for a visit to Belfast, but I mellowed after reading the article above


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