Only a few weeks after officially unveiling the city's beautiful new memorial gardens to mark the centenary of the Titanic disaster, the Lord Mayor of Belfast, Niall O Donnghaile (26), the youngest incumbent of the office in history, is to resign early from his post in order to avoid meeting Her Majesty the Queen during the 2012 Diamond Jubilee celebrations. An official visit by the Sovereign to Northern Ireland will be an accepted part of the Jubilee festivities, although Buckingham Palace has not yet confirmed a date.
Mr O Donnghaile is a member of Sinn Fein, the left-wing republican party strongly in favour of Irish unification. It is currently the second largest political party in Northern Ireland, with 29 seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly. (The largest party is the right-wing, pro-British Democratic Unionist Party, with 38 seats; in third place is another conservative, pro-British party, the Ulster Unionists, with 18.) Mr O Donnghaile's successor is tipped to be a member of the DUP, Mr Gavin Robinson, but Mr O Donnghaile's refusal to associate himself with the monarchist Jubilee means that the election for his replacement has been moved forward to Friday June 1st, the day before the official nationwide Jubilee celebrations begin.
Sources from within Belfast City Hall have confirmed that for the first time in Belfast's history standing orders have been changed to allow the new Lord Mayor to be elected at a meeting on that Friday. Normally, only special meetings are held on Fridays.
Speaking on behalf of Sinn Fein, Mr J. McVeigh, the group's party leader on Belfast City Council, said: “We knew that the Jubilee celebrations were coming up and had a discussion with the DUP about that. We were happy to come out of that role and they were happy to come in a little bit early because of the issue of the anniversary. We as republicans obviously are not keen to celebrate the Jubilee in any shape or form. But, we have supported the recent round of funding when it came before council and we are happy for unionists to celebrate if they so wish. But, it is not something that we would be involved in as republicans. This is as much about accommodating the unionists as about us not wanting to be part of the Jubilee celebrations. We are republicans and have no great love for the royalty in any shape or form. We do not want to be part of the celebrations. A unionist Mayor would love to be on that seat when a member of the Royalty or maybe even the Queen herself comes to Belfast.”