Heated Council debate over UDR memorial plan

The Braid. (Editorial Image)
The Braid. (Editorial Image)

A recommendation to commemorate the UDR with the erection of a Memorial Stone to the Regiment at Ballymena’s Memorial Park evoked heated debate amongst councillors at their monthly meeting on Monday night.

As voices continued to rise in the chamber at The Braid during the lengthy discussion, Deputy Mayor Timothy Gaston slammed his gavel down on the top table in an attempt to bring the meeting to order and subsequently called for a five minute recess.

Discussion got underway earlier on the issue when Cllr Declan O’Loan aired “a point of order” over the procedure leading to the recommendation coming before full council, claiming it had ‘bypassed’ the Policy and Resources Committee of Council.

This, he further claimed, had hampered “full debate” on the issue, stating: “any attempt to reduce that opportunity is a serious question for democratic practice”.

The SDLP councillor said he ‘strongly objected’ to the recommendation, describing it as “divisive and totally unnecessary”

“I believe that this will be very damaging to the reputation of the Council, particularly among the Catholic and nationalist community and will damage good relations in the borough. The UDR is very poorly regarded in the Catholic and nationai

list community and, I will argue, with good reason.”

As the Councillor proceeded to read out a prepared statement on his views of both the UDR and of the recommendation, he was called without success on numerous occasions by the Deputy Mayor to bring his speech to a conclusion.

Cllr O’Loan found a seconder in SF Councillor Patrice Hardy for his proposal that council ‘reject’ the recommendation and his request for a recorded vote which was subsequently lost by 26 against and four in support.

Addressing the meeting despite a microphone malfunction, Cllr Patrice Hardy declared: ”The deputy mayor may not want to hear what I have to say but Sinn Fein have a mandate like everybody else.

“The UDR are a discredited force, widely acknowledged to have been implicated in collusion with loyalist death squads and as such it is not appropriate that it is remembered in a public space,” she said.

As voices began to rise around the chamber at this stage a number of Unionist councillors got up from their seats appearing to leave the meeting in unison and Deputy Mayor Gaston called a five minute recess after which the issue was put to a vote. Following the loss of Cllr O’Loan’s proposal, the substantive proposal, which had been put forward by Cllr Lindsay Millar, to go ahead with the UDR memorial as recommended by the Equality Working Group was carried by 26 for and four.

However, in the wake of Cllr O’Loan’s speech against such a move, a large number of councillors responded to its content, with Cllr Gregg McKeen stating he found it “offensive” while Cllr Brian Collins described it as “a rant” and Cllr John Carson described comments made as “absolutely disgusting”.

Cllr Jim Brown said of Cllr O’Loan: “I don’t believe he has paid any service to the Catholic population of Mid and East Antrim.