NI charity's apology in poppy row

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image captionThe poppy has been a controversial symbol in Northern Ireland, often dividing unionists and nationalists

A Northern Ireland charity has apologised to a number of its staff members after a manager asked them to cover up their poppies.

DUP MLA Jonathan Bell said he was contacted on Thursday by staff at Extern about the issue.

He said staff had told him they were instructed by the manager that they could wear a poppy but that they had to conceal it.

Mr Bell said Extern had said the manager would issue an apology.

"They contacted me back, Extern, to say that the staff member was wrong," he said.

"They said that the staff member would issue an apology to the staff which I understand this person has done both verbally and by email and that the people who wish to wear a poppy would have that right respected."

Mr Bell said that his comments regarding Extern were only on this specific incident and that the charity did "excellent work on a cross-community basis".

In a statement, Extern said that "in the run up to Remembrance Day, a few members of staff based at Extern's Headquarters in Newtownabbey, who were wearing poppies were asked by a member of the management team not to have their poppies visible".

It said the manager had "wrongly believed that the wearing of poppies at this time did not contribute to a neutral working environment".

"Extern senior management immediately investigated the incident and the manager involved apologised fully and unreservedly for the action directly to the members of staff involved, who accepted the apology," the statement added.

Ritchie

The charity said it "deeply regrets" the incident which had "arisen through a misunderstanding on how to give effect to its policy on inclusion in the workplace".

Bob Collins of the Equality Commission said the organisation had been consistently clear that there was "nothing wrong" with the "wearing of poppies or shamrocks with decorum at the appropriate time".

On Thursday, the SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie said that she will wear a poppy while attending a Remembrance Sunday ceremony this weekend.

It is understood that she will be the first leader of a nationalist party to wear a poppy.

Mr Bell commended Ms Ritchie and said she had shown leadership.

The poppy has been a controversial symbol in Northern Ireland, often dividing unionists and nationalists.

It is sold by the British Legion in the run-up to Remembrance Sunday in November to raise money for veterans.

Sinn Fein's Alex Maskey broke ground in 2002 when as his party's first Lord Mayor, he laid a wreath to remember those who fell at the Battle of the Somme.

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