SDLP Councillor Declan O’Loan has accused Mid & East Antrim Council of becoming “one-sided” and ‘taking on a Unionist hue’.
His comments came amidst a move last week by the DUP to confer the new Super Council’s first honorary Freedom of the Borough on B Squadron (North Irish Horse) Scottish & North Irish Yeomanry “in recognition of their contribution to the people of Mid & East Antrim and Northern Ireland”.
The Notice of Motion was submitted by the Mayor, Councillor Billy Ashe and formally presented to last Monday night’s monthly meeting in The Braid by fellow DUP Councillor Gordon Lyons who said it was being brought forward due to their belief “in the worthiness of the intended honorees”
Outlining some of the regiment’s long history, he said 221 of its men gave their lives in World Wars One and Two and that it had played a vital role in one of the most famous Allied victories when it helped to break the Hitler Line in 1944.
Seconding the proposal, TUV Deputy Mayor, Councillor Timothy Gaston, said the motion was “timely” coming just a few weeks after the local Armed Forces Day celebrations and described the story of the North Irish Horse as “one of great faith and dedication”.
However, Sinn Fein’s Patrice Hardy labelled it as “divisive”.
She said: “This is a new council and it is important that it is seen to represent all its citizens from the outset in its decisions, symbolic or otherwise.
“It should be obvious that a regiment of the British Army, given its history in Ireland, receiving an honour from this Council is going to be seen as divisive.
“The individuals or groups that it chooses to honour should, in my view, be worthy of that praise, but also be recognised and thought worthy of that praise by all sections of the borough. They should meet certain principles.”
Councillor Hardy went on to propose an amendment that a sub-committee be set up to discuss the issue of borough freedom, agree criteria and report back to council prior to any decision being taken.
Backing the amendment, SDLP Councillor O’Loan said: “Expenditure on Armed Forces Day, trips to the Somme and Gallipoli, repeated congratulations to members of the Royal family, and now this particular proposal this evening.
“In relation to ceremonial events, this council is, at a very early stage in its existence, becoming very one-sided and taking on a colour that is pro-unionist in character.
“We will only achieve our corporate objectives if we demonstrate we are a council for everyone. I believe we are not moving in this direction,” Councillor O’Loan stated.
Responding, Councillor Lyons told the meeting: “I do wish people would know their history.
“People from all backgrounds served in our armed forces.”
He also stated: “I don’t think you will ever get a proposal that every single person in the borough will agree with.”
Councillor Hardy’s amendment was defeated by 27 votes to four, with three abstentions and one member not voting.
Council went on to vote in favour of the motion to confer freedom on the regiment with a vote of 28 for, four against and two abstentions.