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Thursday, 27 June, 2002, 09:08 GMT 10:08 UK
Maskey defends Somme decision
Alex Maskey has pledged to lay a laurel wreath
Alex Maskey has pledged to lay a laurel wreath
Belfast's republican lord mayor will mark the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme on Monday, but he will not attend the main ceremony.

Instead, Alex Maskey will go alone to lay a wreath at the Cenotaph early on the morning of the ceremony.

Mr Maskey said his decision was supported both within and outside his own party.

"This is a very difficult decision and I know that this will be controversial for many," he said.

Alex Maskey
Alex Maskey: "Commemoration should be reviewed"

"It will rumble on but I am essentially saying we, as a council, have to consider properly and carefully how do we in a civic way pay our respects to those who died."

Mr Maskey will lay his wreath two hours before the official remembrance ceremony begins.

He said he would be laying the wreath in memory of, and in tribute to, all men who died at the Somme and during the First World War.

Equality pledge

Ulster Unionist councillor Chris McGimpsey said: "As first citizen, he said he wished to represent all the people of Belfast, and to do that, he should attend a commemoration which is important to unionists.

"He should simply be attending in order to lay a wreath on behalf of the people of Belfast and leaving afterwards."

Mr McGimpsey said he did not feel unionists could be offended by Mr Maskey's presence at the ceremony.

"I don't think unionists could complain if he attended and paid tribute to their traditions. I think as mayor, he is expected to be there."

When he was elected Belfast's first republican lord mayor earlier this month, Mr Maskey pledged to work for equality for all.

He said it was an honour to represent the city.

Unionists reacted angrily to Mr Maskey's election.

He was elected on 6 June after getting 26 votes with the backing of the SDLP and the Alliance Party in the vote at the City Hall.

Unionist councillors walked out of the City Hall and threatened to withhold co-operation with Sinn Fein by refusing to fill the deputy lord mayor's position.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC NI's Martina Purdy:
"Mr Maskey says the decision to lay a wreath marks a break with republican tradition"
See also:

06 Jun 02 | N Ireland
05 Jun 02 | N Ireland
06 Jun 02 | N Ireland
31 May 02 | N Ireland
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