A Sinn Fein councillor has admitted calling Mid and East Antrim council’s TUV deputy mayor Timothy Gaston a “d***head”.
The remark was made during exchanges at the council’s Braid headquarters in Ballymena during Monday’s monthly meeting.
During a debate on the Reserve Forces and Cadets Association, councillors were discussing a request for permission to establish a hyperlink to the organisation on the council website.
Sinn Fein Councillor Patrice Hardy noted that there was no policy in place to set out criteria to decide which organisations could use the council’s website, and proposed that a decision be deferred until the policy be put in place.
The council’s Veterans’ Champion,Alderman John Carson (DUP), said that while he held the post, it was “over and above party politics”. He added: “I am not surprised at Sinn Fein/IRA and as far as I am concerned to do the job I’m doing they are irrelevant, but I would ask every other member to give me their support.”
Cllr McKeown said that as far as he was aware there were no members of the IRA in the chamber.
“We are members of Sinn Fein, a political party,” he said, seconding Cllr Hardy’s proposal.
Cllr Gaston then voiced his support for Alderman Carson’s remarks.
“As Councillor McKeown has said, they are maybe not in the IRA, but that doesn’t say they are not controlled by the IRA,” he continued.
Cllr Hardy’s proposal was defeated by three for and 32 against.
Cllr Gregg McKeen’s (DUP) subsequent proposal that permission be granted was carried on a vote of 33 for and three abstentions.
Chief Executive Anne Donaghy informed the meeting that she would “look at developing a policy” around the issue.
Cllr Gaston then said he wished to raise a point of order.
“During the last agenda item we had very unsavoury language used by one of our councillors,” he stated.
“I want to throw the floor open to Cllr McKeown to see if he wants to repeat what he said when he muttered below his breath.”
After Cllr McKeown denied that he had ‘muttered’ the remark, adding that Cllr Gaston had been able to hear it, Mayor Billy Ashe told the councillors to “call it quits”.
However, the row continued on social media, with Cllr Gaston stating: “There you have it folks, the terrorist sympathiser that is Carnlough Jimmy is only man enough to call me a “d***head” off microphone, but when I challenged him he hasn’t the bottle to repeat it. The hide behind the hedge mentality still exists.”
Speaking to the Times after the meeting, Cllr Gaston said: “I asked him if he would be man enough to repeat it through the microphone, which he wasn’t prepared to do.
“It was personal and it was disrespectful. I have emailed the Chief Executive and have asked her to give Cllr McKeown the opportunity at the next meeting if he wants to apologise ,but let’s face it ,it’s never going to happen.
Mr Gaston claimed that “everybody in Sinn Fein is a terrorist sympathiser”.
“I’m just repeating the facts that were in the government report that not only was Sinn Fein supporting the IRA but the IRA was controlling Sinn Fein,” he said.
Cllr Gaston, who is standing for the Assembly at this year’s election, denied Cllr Hardy’s remarks in the chamber that he had been “electioneering” and said that his views had been consistent throughout his term as Deputy Mayor.
Admitting that he had called the Deputy Mayor a ‘d***head’ in the council chamber, Cllr McKeown told the Times that he was “not ashamed” of what he had said.
“I was just expressing my personal opinion of the man,” he continued.
“It was out of sheer frustration at his repeating the remark about the IRA/Sinn Fein made by Cllr Carson only seconds before, which I had corrected.
“I am 150 per cent certain that there are three members of Sinn Fein and no members of the IRA in that chamber, and those three members have a mandate.
“It was out of pure frustration.
“Everyone is aware that there is an election coming up and Mr Gaston will stand for the TUV in North Antrim and this is electioneering,”
Responding to Cllr Gaston’s Facebook post, Cllr McKeown added: “I am not a terrorist sympathiser, I am an Irish Republican and I am very proud of that.
“There have been a few suggestions on the Facebook post of boys coming over to sort me out, but I’m not frightened of them.
“I’m treating it with the contempt it deserves.”
Cllr McKeown also said he would not be apologising to Cllr Gaston.
“I don’t see what I have to apologise for. It’s purely my personal opinion of the man and that hasn’t changed since Monday night,” he concluded.