Northern Ireland news

Sinn Féin mayor John Finucane lays Somme wreath at Belfast City Hall

David Young, Press Association

Sinn Féin's Belfast mayor said he thought about his great-great-grandfather who died at the Somme as he laid a wreath to commemorate all those killed in the battle.

John Finucane became the latest Sinn Féin mayor to mark an anniversary that has particular resonance for the unionist community in Northern Ireland, given the huge losses sustained by the 36th Ulster Division in the 1916 battle.

Following recent tradition when the party has held the position of city mayor, Mr Finucane stayed away from the official commemorative event marking the first day of the battle, instead laying a laurel wreath at the Cenotaph at City Hall in a low-key ceremony early this morning.

Mr Finucane, whose solicitor father Pat was murdered by loyalist gunmen during the Troubles, said he hoped his gesture would be interpreted by unionists as a genuine effort to reach across the community divide.

The newly elected councillor revealed that the occasion had a particular personal poignancy, with his great-great-grandfather on his father's side having been killed on the opening day of the Somme.

Mr Finucane, who also had another relative killed in the First World War, said he was "very proud" to have laid the wreath.

"Even though it's a long time ago I still do feel that personal connection," he said.

"I appreciate I am not here personally (in personal capacity) today, I'm here as the mayor, but I do have that personal connection and it was in my mind as I laid the wreath this morning."

He added: "I am very comfortable in my political skin with regards to reaching out to unionists, having conversations with unionists, showing respect whenever I carry out my role today in laying the wreath.

"I hope that I did that - that's perhaps for others to judge - but it doesn't cause me a moment's hesitation to lay the wreath today and it won't cause me a moment's hesitation to continue to reach out to unionists in the future."

Sinn Féin is unwilling to participate in official First World War commemorations in Northern Ireland, such as the Somme anniversary and Remembrance Sunday, claiming there are excessive British military trappings on show.

Mr Finucane said the party was "up for a conversation" with organisers on how such events, from his perspective, could recognise all political traditions in the city.

"We are up for having that conversation as to how we can commemorate in a very respectful way that recognises the very broad political spectrum of those who are here to remember and commemorate," he said.

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