MEA Council split over famine commemoration attendance

Cllr Declan O'Loan
Cllr Declan O'Loan

Mid and East Antrim Councillors will attend the National Famine Commemoration in Newry next month in memory of those who perished.

In a letter to Chief Executive Anne Donaghy, the Chief Executive of Newry, Mourne and Down District Council Liam Hannaway asked that the local council indicate members’ availability for the event.

The letter describes the ceremony, which will be officiated by Taoiseach Enda Kenny, as “a solemn, dignified occasion” which opens with community involvement and culminates in a formal state ceremonial event, including a wreath-laying ceremony.

Sinn Fein Councillor James McKeown proposed that council accept the invitation, and that the Chief Executive and the Mayor or Deputy Mayor should attend the ceremony.

This was seconded by Sinn Fein Councillor Patrice Hardy.

However, UUP Councillor Stephen Nicholl said he found the “tone and inclination of the letter to be quite challenging.”

“The letter refers to this being a state commemoration and I have to ask, given who’s invited, which state,” he said.

“It’s certainly not the Northern Ireland commemoration and I think if our administration the Northern Ireland Executive could do something for what was an issue for many communities then it would be right for us to send a representative to the Northern Ireland Executive commemoration.

“I don’t think at this stage Mid and East Antrim Council is in the framework to start involving itself in the affairs of other states.”

DUP Councillor Paul Reid seconded councillor Nicholl’s proposal.

Expressing his own desire to attend the ceremony, SDLP Councillor Declan O’Loan said he didn’t see the “force” of what Cllr Nicholl was saying.

“If the Northern Ireland Executive were to organise an event it would be entirely appropriate to attend,” he stated.

“Also if it’s a state sponsored event in the Republic that’s what it is, we have attended their events, members of this council.

“I think it would be churlish and a very unhappy outcome for this council if we were for that reason not to send representation to this event. I hope we do send representation and I would request that I would be part of that.”

In response to DUP Councillor Beth Adger’s question over how much attendance at the event would cost, Chief Executive Anne Donaghy said there would be no costs other than travel costs.

In response to Independent Councillor Jim Brown’s statement that the deadline for application had passed, Cllr O’Loan said that it had been extended.

“I do feel it would be ungracious of us not to consider the invitation, added Cllr O’Loan.

“In open terms and if I might say in relation to myself if any member of council makes a request to attend an event like that I think it would be singularly ungracious for council towards that member not to respect that.”

UUP Councillor Mark McKinty said he felt it would be “reasonable enough” for those members who wished to attend and that it was up to each member how to spend their allowance for attendance at conferences.

Cllr McKinty proposed that any member who wished to attend should contact the Chief Executive for arrangements to be made.

This was seconded by Alliance Councillor Robert Logan.

With three propositions on the table, a vote on Cllr McKinty’s proposition was passed by 15 to 14.

A substantive motion on Cllr McKinty’s proposal then passed with 15 voting for, 14 voting against, six members not voting and no abstentions.