Council workers are to be permitted to wear the Easter Lily, subject to consultation with employees, after republican members of Derry City & Strabane District Council backed the move yesterday evening.
Sinn Féin Councillor, Mickey Cooper, speaking after the new policy was approved, said: “This is a positive development and should be seen in that light.
"It isn’t about forcing people to wear a lily, it is about recognising their right to do so if they so wish.”
The landmark proposal was originally backed by members of the Council’s Governance & Strategic Planning Committee late last month but required the mandate of Full Council yesterday to proceed.
The G&SP committee had agreed to “the wearing of the Easter Lily for one week leading up to Easter Sunday” and its decision was ultimately adopted by the Council last night but not before concerns were raised by the SDLP and unionists.
SDLP group leader, Colr. Martin Reilly said his party discussed the issue and that members recognised the importance of maintaining a “neutral workplace”.
Colr. Reilly said the SDLP’s view was that “emblems perceived as antagonistic should not be allowed”.
He said the old “no emblem policy” of the now defunct Derry City Council had served the people of Derry well. Colr. Reilly said he did not believe the move to allow the wearing of the lily at Easter had been driven by grassroots demand from workers and that he did not want the Council to be used in “a social experiment”.
Colr. Reilly proposed that instead of approving the G&SP committee’s recommendation that the wearing of lilies and poppies be allowed subject to consultation with employees, the Council should rather, “prohibit the wearing of any emblems for the time being with the option of drafting a dedicated emblems policy”.
DUP Alderman Hilary McClintock, reflecting the fact that poppies are already permitted, said the “status quo should be protected”.
She also alluded to concerns raised by NIPSA over the necessity of a full consultation with workers, something that, as it happens, is provided for in the G&SP proposal.
“We have noted the concerns of council workers,” she said, claiming figures from NIPSA showed that in a consultation with local workers 73.12 per cent of respondents did not want any change.
Independent Colr. Paul Gallagher, who originally proposed allowing workers wear the lily in April 2016, said his understanding was that 352 Council workers were NIPSA members and not all had responded to the survey referred to by Ald. McClintock.
Independent Colr. Gary Donnelly, meanwhile, accused the SDLP of performing a “U-turn” claiming nationalists and republicans would be “sitting at the back of the bus” if the SDLP proposal was adopted.
Colr. Reilly “no emblem” proposal fell by 22 votes to seven with Sinn Féin and the Council’s six independent republicans and nationalists opposing the move. Nine unionist members abstained.
Colr. Cooper said: “The Good Friday Agreement established the right of all to remember their dead and this policy is simply a recognition of that principle.
“Council has also gone about this policy change in a very inclusive way, considering it over a lengthy period, during which time a working group was established and advice sought from the Equality Commission. That kind of inclusive, informed approach should be the model for other areas.”
The Council officially approved "the wearing of lillies and poppies in the workplace for an appropriate period of time subject to consultation with employees and that Equality screening will also be carried out and shall include; (ii) the wearing of the Easter lily for one week leading up to Easter Sunday and (iii) the wearing of the poppy for one week inclusive of Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day."
A spokesperson for Derry city & Strabane District Council, however, pointed out that it had not agreed that staff be permitted to wear the lily - it was only agreed that the "Council will look at drawing up a draft policy that could possibly allow for the wearing of lilies and poppies, subject to consultation with staff".
The spokesperson explained that Council ratified a decision by members of its G&SP to approve proposals "to draft a dedicated Emblems Policy that could allow for the wearing of Lilies and Poppies in the workplace, subject to consultation with employees".
"The proposal came before committee after the setting up of a Decade of Centenaries Working Group made up of elected members and facilitated by Council officers in April 2016.
"Members of the dedicated working group considered a number of options including allowing the wearing of Lilies and Poppies in the workplace for an appropriate time such as the wearing of the Easter Lily for one week leading up to Easter Sunday and the wearing of the Poppy for one week inclusive of Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day.
"Members were also advised that the wearing of the emblems is subject to consultation with Council employees and an equality screening exercise," the spokesperson said.