Slugger O'Toole

Conversation, politics and stray insights

New Mayor seeks to return Belfast to Unionist Past

Tue 5 June 2012, 9:46am

It is more than a tad ironic that, 12 months after Sinn Fein faced unionist criticism for nominating a 25-year old as Mayor of Belfast, the DUP selected 27-year old Gavin Robinson as their choice for Belfast Mayor earlier this month.

The youthful DUP figure has already failed the first key test, once again illustrating the width of the chasm between the Robinson rhetoric regarding unionist outreach and the reality on the ground.

During his tenure in office, Mayor O’Donnghaile placed a copy of the 1916 Proclamation in the Mayor’s Parlour alongside a portrait of the British Queen. An additional portrait of Prince Phillip and a picture associated with the United Irishmen were also kept in the parlour.

 It was a powerful symbol of the shared nature of the new Belfast and, predictably, was opposed by those not too enamoured to the notion of a city shared by both of the main traditions in a place where unionists ensured that more than 100 years would pass before the first nationalist mayor would be installed in office.

Accordingly, the new Mayor Robinson has announced that he will be removing the copy of the 1916 Proclamation to return the chamber “to its original state.”

Interestingly, he attempted to explain his actions by suggesting that the 1916 Rebellion and Proclamation had nothing to do with Belfast.

Here’s the Mayor:

I don’t think the Irish Proclamation has any relevance to the city of Belfast. It has resonance, absolutely with members of the nationalist and republican community, but there is no Belfast connection.

As a student of Irish politics, I’m somewhat surprised that the Mayor is unaware that two of the signatories of the Proclamation were residents of Belfast for a period of time: James Connolly lived on the Falls Road and Sean McDiarmada lived in Butler Street, Ardoyne.

Furthermore, the criteria of a direct connection with Belfast would appear to rule out the retention of portraits of Queen Elizabeth II or the return of portraits of Prince Charles or the Queen Mother, who have only ever had the most fleeting of visits to Belfast.

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