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27 June 2002 Edition

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Maskey seeks common ground

``I approach this issue as one who has committed my entire adult life to activism in pursuit of Irish national self-determination and political independence,'' Alex Maskey said of his ground-breaking decision to lay a wreath to commemorate the Battle of the Somme memorial in Belfast on Monday.

Maskey will lay a laurel wreath at the Cenotaph at the City Hall on the morning of 1 July at 9am. He will also chair the Council meeting before the ceremony at the Cenotaph that night, which he will not attend

Speaking last night, Wednesday 26 June, the newly elected Sinn Féin mayor acknowledged the difficulties his involvement in the event poses for republicans, but he said that his decision was ``guided by a desire to use this occasion to unite and include rather than divide and exclude''.

``Sinn Féin's desire,'' he said, of the party's huge decision to play a part in commemorating the 50,000 Irishmen who died at the Somme 86 years ago, ``is to respect that memory, to acknowledge the hurt and loss experienced by the families of those injured and killed and to recognise the bravery and honour with which many have served.

``Irish republicans recognise the importance of commemorating those who lost their lives in conflict. The Easter Commemoration is an annual event throughout Ireland. Recently the Tírghrá event was held in Dublin to commemorate Irish republicans who lost their lives over the past 30 years of conflict. We believe there is a need for everyone living on the island of Ireland to be able to take part in remembering the victims of wars and conflicts in which their loved ones' lives were taken.

``I am laying this wreath in memory of and in tribute to all the men who made the supreme sacrifice at the Battle of the Somme and during the First World War. My initiative on this issue is equally in recognition of the sorrow, hurt and suffering left behind for their relatives, friends and comrades. My objective, beyond this, is to seek to identify common ground for all of us in this generation.''



Newly elected Mayor of Belfast Alex Maskey, speaking in Belfast on Tuesday morning, said that the principles that will guide him are equality, inclusivity and respect. He said that he wants to use his year in office to represent all the people of the city. Below is an edited text of his speech.

"Poblachtaí de chuid Béal Feirste mé. Fear déanta síochána. Tá áthas orm a rá nach i m'aonar atá mé sa dóigh seo. Tá neart daoine ann a bhfuil cúlrá polaitiúil agus creidimh éagsúil acu a chuidigh leis an phróiseas síochána.

Ba mhaith liomsa mo bhliain mar Ardmhéara a úsáid ar son mhuintir uilig na cathrach scoilte seo. Sin an chiall atá le Poblachtachas. Sin an chiall atá le déanamh síochána.


I am deeply honoured and proud to stand before you as the first member of Sinn Féin to hold the office of Mayor of Belfast. This is the first time ever that a republican has held this post. It is another important and historic development.

I am an Irish republican. I am a peacemaker. I'm glad to say that I am not alone in this respect. Many people from different political and religious backgrounds from Belfast contributed to the peace process in conjunction with others throughout the island and abroad. I want to commend them all and to express my appreciation on behalf of all of the citizens of Belfast.

I want to use my year in office as Mayor to represent all the people of this city. That is what Irish republicanism stands for. That is what making peace is all about.

Irish Republicanism is a democratic and inclusive philosophy. The City of Belfast was its cradle in the 18th century. Its principal advocates and supporters were from Presbyterian and Church of Ireland backgrounds.

In those days, Belfast was a beacon of light for positive, progressive thinking. It was no accident that it was called the Athens of the north; no accident that Belfast was the first city in these islands to ban ships from its harbour which were involved in the slave trade.

My hope is to contribute to the recreation of that period of enlightenment in the precincts of the City Hall through the use of my term of office. My guiding principles will be equality, reconciliation, fair play, openness, freshness, inclusiveness.


I want a new rulebook for the Mayor of this city. I want all the citizens of this city to contribute to the writing of that rule book.

This city has many wells of positive energy. I want to pool that energy. I will open the doors of my office and the doors of the City Hall to the people of this City, north, south, east and west. I want the people of Taughmonagh and Ballymurphy, of Ardoyne, the Shankill and Malone, the Short Strand and the Newtownards Road to personally explore with this office what we can do together for their neighbourhoods and for the citizens of Belfast as a whole.

Inside the City Hall I want to contribute to the creation of the same openness. I want to institutionalise political cooperation between the parties.

I am proposing to hold a monthly meeting of the leaders of all the political parties on the Council, to promote understanding and devise plans for the mutual benefit of all the people we represent.
I will give over the Mayor's parlour and associated facilities to all the parties on agreed dates throughout the year for their civic use, so that these facilities will be available to all sections of the electorate.
I want to see the Council at the centre of tackling interface problems and will promote this by appointing dedicated Community Liaison Officers and by developing a strategy in conjunction with community relations agencies.
I will appoint a Civic Advisory Panel reflecting civic society. This Panel could be made up of people representing ethnic minorities, the churches, business people, victims organisations, Trades Council, community activists, conservationists and ex-prisoners from loyalist and republican backgrounds.
I am also proposing to convene formal meetings of all committee chairpersons and heads of council departments for purposes of integrating strategies, and achieving best effect and best value for money for the ratepayers and the citizens as a whole.


These are difficult times in Belfast. The political leaders of all the parties, including my own party, Sinn Fein, have a responsibility to lead their communities by example, through working together. Political leaders working together can usher in a much-needed period of political stability, harmony and co-existence for everyone.

The electorate in this city has spoken its mind. That is why I am currently the Mayor - my peers democratically chose me.

But there is an important part of the City Hall jigsaw missing. The post of Deputy Lord Mayor has not yet been filled. In the interests of all the people of this City, I am asking unionists to follow their colleagues on the Executive and on the Committees in the new Assembly.

I am asking them to share power with me by taking up this post.

I am asking them to follow the example of their unionist colleagues in areas like Magherafelt, where the DUP's Willie McCrea is Chair of the Council and his Deputy is a Sinn Féin member. In Limavady there is a UUP Chairperson and a Sinn Féin Deputy Chair.

Let us jointly give the people of this City the civic leadership that they are entitled to.


As I have said many times before I was elected Mayor, my watchword is equality, in all its dimensions - within the institutions of the City, in the treatment of all citizens by the City Council. I intend to ensure that equality will be the pivot on which my term of office rotates. No one from any of this City's traditions should fear equality. Everyone is a winner as far as equality is concerned.

My commitment to equality extends to the many ethnic minorities and groups who contribute to the life of this City on a daily basis. This includes the Arab and Islamic community, the Chinese community, the Indian community, the African community, the Pakistani community, the Jewish community and the Latin-American community - to name but the larger ethnic groups which have come to share our city with us as citizens of Belfast. It includes also the Disadvantaged, Travellers, Women, Gays and Lesbians, Conservationists, Disabled, Special Needs Children and of course the Churches.

The Irish language and Gaelic culture plays an important role in making Belfast a vibrant and pluralist society. Indeed Irish has been a living language in Belfast since the founding of the City. During my time as Mayor, I will encourage all the citizens of Belfast to take an interest in and enjoy the dynamic and vital Gaelic culture around us.

In recent years, we have witnessed the growth in interest in Ulster Scots. This development is also a part of making 'Balfawst Citie o Jonick' - a City of Equals.

Belfast is a divided city. It doesn't always have to be like that. I hope, when I leave office in a year's time, I will be leaving behind a more united city.


An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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