‘Time for DUP to step up to the mark’

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SINN Fein representatives in Cookstown say they are prepared to reach out to the DUP over poor relations in the council.

Nationalist councillors made the plea following Martin McGuinness’ historic handshake with the Queen alongside DUP leader Peter Robinson. It follows one year of ever increasing tensions both in and outside of the council chamber between both parties.

In January outrage was expressed at a monthly meeting after DUP councillor Maureen Lees said she would ‘rather die’ than be photographed with Sinn Fein’s John McNamee.

Some months before that the DUP had also refused to stand for a minute’s silence in memory of a relative of the Sinn Fein councillor, who was recently elected Deputy Chair of Cookstown District Council.

Following the snub, councillor Lees and fellow DUP colleague Sam McCartney again both refused to stand for a minute’s silence in memory of Councillor McNamee’s 24 year-old nephew Barry Shiels, who passed away from a rare health condition, at a separate meeting.

Sinn Fein now say that the time is right put a stop to deepening divisions in the council following the Deputy First Minister’s meeting with the Queen, which has been hailed a watershed moment in the region’s peace process.

Speaking to the Mid-Ulster Mail, Councillor McNamee said: “Previous actions by the DUP in Cookstown Council have only deepened the divisions in working relationships there.

“By refusing to recognise the loss of loved ones of other councillors they showed a clear lack of respect. By continuing their stance in avoiding being photographed with Sinn Féin councillors they have demonstrated their own isolation.

“We call on the DUP in Cookstown Council to take the same risks as their party leader and move into the new era of political progress. We recognise that there are huge political differences between the parties but believe that small steps can lead to progress and we encourage the DUP to begin that process,” said councillor McNamee.

“It is clearly time to build a new relationship across the political divide and we feel that Martin Mc Guinness and indeed DUP leader Peter Robinson have led by example. Locally we are willing to reach out that hand to our fellow councillors and move things on for the betterment of all in our society.”

“Within the Executive and the Assembly all parties are working together and have no difficulties in coming together for a simple photograph.

Councillor McNamee added: “Even within neighbouring councils all councillors can stand together for a photograph or acknowledge a families grief through a moments silence. It is now time that members of Cookstown council can do the same.”

On Wednesday Queen Elizabeth took the hand of Martin McGuinness in a gesture that means as much to the peace process as her groundbreaking visit to Ireland last year.

The British monarch and the North’s Deputy First Minister met briefly when the Queen visited the Lyric theatre in Belfast to view an art exhibition.

Mr McGuinness, as he held the monarch’s hands for a few moments, spoke to her in Irish and told her the words meant: “Goodbye and God speed.”