SDLP members have defended a decision to back the use of Ormeau Park for a controversial unionist ceremony celebrating the signing of the Ulster Covenant.
A recent meeting of Belfast City Council’s Parks and Leisure Committee saw SDLP members join members of the DUP in backing the plan, while Sinn Féin councillors voted against, over concerns about the route of feeder parades leading to the park.
The event next May is planned by the Joint Unionist Centenary Committee, whose shareholders include the Orange Order, flute bands, the DUP, and the TUV. It is to mark the 100th anniversary of the covenant signing at Belfast City Hall, resisting Home Rule for Ireland, and is expected to include all aspects of unionist culture including marching Orangemen.
A spokesperson for Sinn Féin told the South Belfast News that the party would be asking for a recorded vote at the upcoming monthly meeting of Belfast City Council, where a debate on ratifying the decision will be held, in order to publically identify councillors supporting the plan.
It is understood a plan to allow an Orange Order flower display in the park next year, to mark the 125th anniversary of the nearby Ballynafeigh Orange hall was also backed by members of the SDLP.
Local SDLP Councillor Kate Mullan told the South Belfast News that Sinn Féin were doing a “U-turn” on what was discussed at a council working group dealing with the long list of upcoming centenary celebrations.
“The recommendations at this committee meeting were for the use of the park, not for a parade which Council has no control over,” she said.
“In both issues the Parks Committee simply approved the agreed recommendations that came from the Historic Centenaries Working Group of which Sinn Fein is a member. Sinn Féin now appear to have done a u-turn on these decisions.
“The SDLP’s position on the decades of Centenaries is consistent, we are leading the way in setting guiding principles and protocols for each event over this period. Central to this is that through its Strategic Policy and Resources Committee Belfast City Council ‘will not support events or activities that could deemed to be triumphalist to deepen or harden existing divisions, or belittle or demonize other groups’.”
She added: “The forthcoming decade of centenaries will be difficult, emotive and challenging for us all. We can be serious and show leadership or we can play divisive party politics. It is clear but regrettable what route Sinn Féin appear to be taking.”
A Sinn Féin spokesman told this paper the party had “no problem” with the celebration of unionist culture, but stressed concern over the route of feeder parades. There are concerns the route could go along the Lower Ormeau bookmakers where loyalist gunmen shot dead five Catholics in 1992. A subsequent Orange parade past the site saw local lodge members make mocking hand gestures referring to the five victims, behaviour the then British Secretary of State said would “disgrace a tribe of cannibals.”
The spokesman added: “We will be asking for a recorded vote on this at the monthly meeting. We don’t have a problem with the celebration of unionist culture as long as it doesn’t interfere with people’s lives. We can’t agree on the use of the park until we know more about the routes involved.”