A row erupted in the Council chamber at The Braid last night (Monday) over the approval of an application to hold Gospel outreach meetings at the People’s Park this summer.
The application by Ballymena Gospel Hall for use of the park for the meetings on Sundays throughout July and August had already been approved by Council’s Senior Management Team through delegated powers when it came before the June monthly meeting on Monday night for ‘noting’.
However, Cllr Declan O’Loan spoke out against the decision.
The SDLP councillor pointed out that he had “every respect for Ballymena Gospel Hall” and that he had no objection to the holding of a religious service at the People’s Park but that he considered “anything beyond that is not appropriate”, pointing out that the application was for ‘an outreach meeting’ which, he described, as “an exercise in evangelisation”.
He added that for the many people who come to the People’s Park “that is not what they expect on a Sunday afternoon”.
First to respond, Cllr Beth Adger said she was “totally and absolutely disgusted” with Cllr O’Loan’s remarks.
“I have had no complaints about the Gospel Hall preaching the gospel - they have done it for years and I admire them for that,” she said.
Numerous councillors echoed her remarks, including Cllr Paul Reid who described Councillor O’Loan’s objection as “extremely sad” and Cllr Timothy Gaston stated: “As a council we should be supporting freedom of speech”.
Also responding, Cllr Brian Collins said: “There is no one being held in the People’s Park against their will to listen to the preaching of the Gospel”.
Cllr John Carson told the meeting: “I’m absolutely disgusted and taken aback that this is even being discussed tonight.”
Councillors were reminded by the Mayor Cllr Billy Ashe that a decision to approve the application had already been taken on the matter by Council officers.
Under the Scheme of Delegation Council’s Chief Executive has delegated powers to grant the use of Council facilities. The Senior Management Team considered the application and approval was granted.
A condition of the approval is that only one vehicle would be permitted entrance to the People’s Park and the time frame would be 3.00 – 4.00pm.
Read more in next week’s Ballymena Times.