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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 July, 2004, 08:09 GMT 09:09 UK
SF's 'separate' Somme ceremony
Belfast cenotaph ceremony
Many people turned up to watch the cenotaph ceremony

The Sinn Fein deputy lord mayor has stayed away from the annual Somme commemoration at Belfast City Hall.

However, Councillor Joe O'Donnell observed a minute's silence in the Council Chamber but didn't attend the wreath laying at the cenotaph saying its military associations excluded republicans.

A large crowd watched the service and unionists criticised Cllr O Donnell saying the commemoration was inclusive and by staying away republicans were doing nothing to reach out to unionists.

The ceremony was held at the cenotaph in the grounds of Belfast City Hall.

Earlier on Thursday, the deputy mayor said he was building on the initiative by the former Sinn Fein lord mayor, Alex Maskey, who laid his own wreath at the cenotaph two years ago.

Mr O'Donnell said he wanted an extra ceremony to be held for both sides of the community.

"I know that 1 July at the city hall is very important to very many people," he said.

We do not need to get involved in fighting battles over the dead, we need to be working and living for the future
Chris McGimpsey

"Unfortunately it is only addressing one section of our community and only addressing one division of all those who died.

"I would like to see a ceremonial occasion where all sections of the community, additional to what is happening at the moment, can buy into and feel inclusive and feel comfortable taking part in."

However, Ulster Unionist councillor Chris McGimpsey said the council was about to approve a plan to have a civic commemoration ceremony, as well as the cenotaph event.

"There is no need for Joe O'Donnell to have raised this issue now," Mr McGimpsey told BBC Radio Ulster on Thursday.

"The very fact that this is raised this morning when council is on the cuspe of formally endorsing a decision which would bring forward a civic ceremony, indicates that there are people still prepared to play ducks and drakes with this issue.

'Inclusive ceremony'

"We do not need to get involved in fighting battles over the dead, we need to be working and living for the future. That's what Joe's doing.

"We don't need to turn this into a political football."

On Wednesday, DUP councillor Robin Newton said the existing ceremony was already inclusive.

"That point has been made time and time again by the British Legion and other members of commemoration ceremonies," he said.

"They are extending the invitation to every member of the community regardless of their background."

BBC NI's Claire Savage:
"Mr O'Donnell wants an extra ceremony to be held for both sides of the community"

Maskey holds Legion reception
04 Nov 02  |  Northern Ireland
Maskey defends Somme decision
27 Jun 02  |  Northern Ireland
Maskey marks Somme with wreath
01 Jul 02  |  Northern Ireland
Unionists snub Sinn Fein mayor
02 Oct 02  |  Northern Ireland

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