The David Simpson Remembrance Day controversy intensified this week, with Councillor Meta Crozier claiming the Upper Bann MP used Sunday’s wreath-laying ceremony in Lurgan to boost his political profile.
Mrs Crozier (UUP) was detailed by Mayor Colin McCusker to lay the first wreath at Lurgan War Memorial, after Sinn Fein Deputy Mayor Catherine Seeley refused to officiate. But Mr Simpson – who had always laid the second wreath in Portadown - switched to Lurgan, where it was agreed with the Royal British Legion Branch that he should lay the first wreath, “as the senior politician”.
The MP strongly denied his action anything to do with politics, “but all to do with helping the people of Lurgan to deal with this insult by a Deputy Mayor who couldn’t find it in her to honour the dead on the 100th anniversary of the Great War. The soldiers of Ireland – north and south – fought side by side, with thousands paying the Supreme Sacrifice.”
He added that Catherine Seeley had been elected at the council AGM thanks to a deal with the Ulster Unionists, “so that Colin McCusker could be Mayor, and this is the result.”
Mrs Crozier, who laid the second (council) wreath, pointed out it was custom and practice for Craigavon council members to lay the first wreath at all six commemorations in the borough’s town and villages, adding, “Ever since his election to the House of Commons in 2005, David Simpson has laid the Westminster wreath, second-in-line, in Portadown.
“But he saw a chance for publicity and electioneering with the Catherine Seeley situation and made a deal with the Legion to transfer to Lurgan and lay the first one. I found it extremely disappointing. I have represented Lurgan for 26 years, I am retiring from politics in April (with the advent of the new ABC Council).
“Of course, I find it insulting to the people of Craigavon that any Deputy Mayor should refuse to carry out this important duty. It never happened before. And I would point out that I did not vote for Catherine Seeley as Deputy Mayor.
“I acted in a dignified manner at the AGM and absented myself from the chamber, rather than cause a fuss, and I also acted with dignity on Sunday. I feel very hurt by the whole episode.”
Mr Simpson said, “The action of Catherine Seeley, who was elected thanks to the Ulster Unionists, was reprehensible. The people of Lurgan supported my action and many of them told me so.
“As I said before, Nationalist Mayors Dolores Kelly and Ignatius Fox (both SDLP) had no problem laying the wreaths in the past. They represented all the people.”
s Seeley explained her non-attendance was “because of the absence of an agreed inclusive commemorative ceremony”, adding, “I do, however, offer my condolences to the families and relatives of all who lost their lives in war, and respect the right of all to honour their war dead.”
She also said she had had a “respectful and meaningful meeting with the British Legion and hope for further engagement.”
Mayor McCusker, who laid the first wreath in Portadown, confirmed it was custom and practice for council members to lay the first wreath.