01/12/2011 16:22 GMT

Belfast Mayor Apologises For Army Cadet Snub

A city lord mayor who provoked a public outcry over his refusal to present an army cadet with a Duke of Edinburgh award has apologised.

Sinn Fein's Niall O Donnghaile said he did not mean to offend the teenage girl and her family during a presentation ceremony at Belfast City Hall.

He said: "I have never and would never go out of my way to cause offence to anyone."

Rival parties, especially Democratic Unionists, demanded he apologise after he pulled out midway through the ceremony earlier this week to avoid interacting with the teenage girl. He said he stepped aside because he did not want to compromise his Irish republican principles.

Councillors called an emergency meeting but, hours before they were due to meet, Mr O Donnghaile moved to try and defuse heightening tensions by issuing an apology.

The 26-year-old mayor said: "I have consistently sought to reach out to unionism and loyalism and to be a mayor for all the people of Belfast. My decision to attend the recent Duke of Edinburgh awards ceremony was taken with this in mind.

"I have never and would never go out of my way to cause offence to anyone. In any society moving out of conflict we all need to be very conscious of how we deal with sensitive issues.

"Balancing these considerations is not simple. We all need to be tolerant of our different traditions and aspirations. I accept that my decision not to present an award to a British Army Cadet has caused genuine annoyance. I apologise to anyone who has been offended and in particular the young woman involved and her family. That was clearly never my intention."

Unionists had earlier demanded the mayor apologise or resign. It was also claimed that a Facebook campaign against him had attracted more than 3,000 backers.

Democratic Unionist Party MP Sammy Wilson, himself a former mayor and now the Minister for Finance and Personnel at the Northern Ireland Executive said: "It is an absolute disgrace that a young person should be snubbed in such a public manner as this... He has touched a raw nerve and caused deep anger."