Northern Ireland news

Sinn Féin mayor of Derry snubs Prince Charles over links to Parachute Regiment

 he Prince of Wales at the Eglinton Community Centre in Derry during a visit to communities hit by the summer's flash floods. Picture by Laura Hutton/PA Wire
David Young, Press Association

A Sinn Féin mayor has refused to meet the Prince of Wales on his visit to Derry.

Explaining the snub, Maoliosa McHugh cited Charles's links to the Parachute Regiment, whose soldiers were responsible for the Bloody Sunday shootings in Derry in 1972.

The prince, who holds the role of Colonel in Chief of the regiment, was in the city on Friday to visit communities hit by summer flooding. He has visited the city on a number of previous occasions.

Other senior Sinn Féin members have met and shaken hands with Charles in the past, including party president Gerry Adams.

In January 1972, soldiers from the Parachute Regiment opened fire on civil rights demonstrators, killing 13 people. A 14th victim died months later in hospital.

A long-running public inquiry found that the killings were unjustified and the dead posed no threat when they were shot. Then-British prime minister David Cameron subsequently apologised for the actions of the regiment on the day.

Mr McHugh, Mayor of Derry and Strabane, said meeting Charles in the city would be "premature", given the "unresolved sensitives" around Bloody Sunday.

Prosecutors in Northern Ireland are currently assessing whether to charge 18 former paras in connection with the events of Bloody Sunday. They are also due to examine files of evidence related to two former Official IRA members.

Mr McHugh said: "As a Sinn Féin elected representative and Mayor of Derry and Strabane, I am fully committed to reconciliation and to reaching out to the unionist community.

"I also recognise the positive contribution made by members of the British royal family to the search for reconciliation and the need for greater understanding of the different narratives, which exist here.

"Today's visit to Derry by Prince Charles is difficult for many families in the city given his ongoing role as Colonel in Chief of the Parachute Regiment.

"And while I have supported meetings between Sinn Fein and members of the British royal family, I believe that meeting him in Derry is premature given the ongoing and unresolved sensitivities around the legacy of the massacre carried out by that regiment."

Deputy Mayor John Boyle, of the SDLP, met Charles during his engagements in the north-west.

DUP MP for East Derry Gregory Campbell accused the mayor of "retreating to the comfort of backwoods republicanism".

"Over two years ago, Gerry Adams met with Prince Charles. He and Martin McGuinness were able to spend 20 minutes in a private meeting with him. Only six months ago, Mr Adams shared a handshake with Prince Charles on the final day of his tour of the Republic of Ireland.

"Today, the Sinn Fein Mayor of Londonderry is retreating to the comfort of backwoods republicanism.

"We hear a great deal from republicans about respect and criticisms of Unionism for not reaching out to recognise other cultures and traditions. It is clear, however, that Maoliosa McHugh does not believe such responsibilities extend to him."

On arrival in Eglinton, Charles looked at a display of photographs taken in the immediate aftermath of the flooding, showing homes ruined and businesses destroyed.

Gladys McElhatton, a local resident who has still been unable to return to her home, said: "Prince Charles was so lovely. He came over and shook all our hands.

"It's great that he came here and that it shows he's still thinking about us and what happened to us with the flooding."

Paul Miller, who owns a local shop, said he and other local business owners had told Charles they are worried about the implications the flooding could have on insurance.

He said: "We said to the Prince, insurance companies have walked away from us and they seem to be getting away with it. He said he knows just the person to ring and he'll look into it for us."

Mr Miller added: "I asked him to come to the pub with us after, for a pint. But I don't know if he will."

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