Councillors were called to a special meeting last night to overturn a decision taken in December that would have seen Council establish a pot of money which could be applied to by local groups who wish to hold events to mark the centenaries of the Battle of the Somme and Easter Rising.
Ballymoney Councillor Philip McGuigan was not in favour of rescinding the motion, describing it as a a “very sensible decision”. Cllr McGuigan also wished to know the legal standing of council if the decision was overturned.
The motion to rescind the decision taking in December was then put to a vote and passed by 21 votes in favour to 15 against.
After this, the DUP’s Coleraine Councillor Trevor Clarke’s original motion was brought to the table.
Speaking on the motion, Cllr Clarke said that members must reflect on why these motions regarding the commemoration of the Somme were brought forward, stating that “everyone remembers what happened on 1st July 1916” and highlighted the enormous sacrifice made by the thousands of Ulstermen who lost their lives on that day, fighting to protect the freedom of others.
Clarke then proposed that Council work in partnership with two local groups, one based in Ballymoney and the other in Coleraine and provide funding in the realm of £30,000, with an additional £9,000 to be set aside for any other groups who wish to apply.
In response to this, Cllr McGuigan stated that nobody, at any time had spoken against the commemoration of the Somme, or providing funding for the groups mentioned above. However, Council is not obligated to commemorate the Somme alone, McGuigan then accused Unionists of refusing to acknowledge the traditions of other communities.
The Ballymoney Councillor then put forward the amendment, that had been previously been rescinded, that Council Officers come back with a pot of money in which groups would apply to via competitive process.
Cllr Barney Fitzpatrick of the Alliance Party was confused as to why Cllr Clarke was calling for this motion to be rescinded after previously being so enthusiastic that it pass in December. Clarke responded by stating that he felt there was confusion as to what had been voted on in December after an amendment was made which would broaden the scope of the motion to include funding for events commemorating the Easter Rising, which he feels has no link to the Battle of the Somme other than having happened in the same year.
Independent Cllr Padraig McShane expressed concerns about the motion being exclusive to one side of the community, called the motion illegal and said that Councillors have refused to recognise that there is a nationalist and republican community in the borough.
Eventually, Alderman John Finlay called for a vote to be taken on the amendments that were on the table, however before Council moved to vote, the TUV’s William Blair spoke, stating that there were stark differences between what happened at the Somme and the events of the Easter Rising, which he described as a “terrorist uprising”.
Councillor Clarke’s amendment was then put to a vote and passed with 20 votes in favour, 14 against and 2 abstentions.
The amendment proposed by Cllr McGuigan failed with 21 votes against to 15 in favour.