Council debates marking centenary of Northern Ireland
Mid Ulster District Council is to establish a working group to discuss how best to spend the £72,000 earmarked for projects commemorating 1921 and the 100th anniversary of Northern Ireland.
A paper on how best to mark the decade of anniversaries in the 2021-2022 financial year was brought before Council’s development committee.
The paper itself provides members with an outline of the types of exhibitions, drama productions, education programmes and good relations activities that Council can use to mark the anniversaries within the 2021-2022 financial year.
A total budget of £72,000 has been set aside for the events which will, the paper notes, be dependant on COVID-19 restrictions at the time.
Sinn Fein councillor Cora Corry said she would like to ensure that events are balanced and considerate of sensitivities that exist.
“To some it is something to celebrate but to others the state was imposed under the threat of immediate and terrible violence,” said Cllr Corry.
“To many it was established under state violence, sectarianism and discrimination, all of which was used to maintain power.”
Cllr Corry called for a workshop to discuss the events that would take place.
Independent Councillor Barry Monteith said he shared these concerns.
DUP councillor Cllr Ashton said she was “slightly disappointed” with the tone of the discussion so far.
“The paper is very balanced, it is to be inclusive,” said Cllr Ashton. “Obviously some of the events may not be for everyone in the community but all are open.
“Some of the events will allow for the discussion that [Cllr Corry] has raised.
“It is about showing respect to each other and being able to mark different anniversaries in a manner that shows this district can be a community for everybody.”
Cllr Ashton proposed the paper be adopted as is, and asked those who had concerns to engage with her.
“I have an open door policy,” said Cllr Ashton. “The paper, as presented, is certainly something that our whole community could be involved in if they wish.
“There are things that have been passed in years gone by that maybe my community did not want to engage with but they were passed by this Council and we have to acknowledge that.
“These are events that, no doubt, my community will want to be a part of and this is an opportunity for this council to actually show that we are going to be inclusive and not send out a message that we are not going to allow proposals because it is not in the liking of certain quarters.”
Councillor Niamh Doris said the discussion highlighted the need for the workshop and seconded Cllr Corry’s proposal.
DUP councillor Kyle Black seconded Cllr Ashton’s proposal to accept the paper as is.
“Certain people talk about respect, inclusivity and tolerance and I think this is the perfect opportunity to show they mean what they say,” said Cllr Black.
“Whilst they might not agree with the substance of this report and what is being commemorated, if they are true to their word they must create space for other sections of the community to celebrate their culture and their heritage.”
Ulster Unionist councillor Trevor Wilson said he agreed with Cllrs Ashton and Black.
“I am not surprised Sinn Fein have adopted this attitude, they talk about equality and respect but don’t show any when it does not reflect on their community,” said Cllr Wilson.
“There is nothing threatening in the paper that I can see and therefore I am quite happy to support it.”
Councillor Catherine Elattar said she agreed with Cllrs Corry and Doris describing the paper as “vague” and called for a workshop to ensure it is truly an “inclusive process”.
Cllr Corry said her proposal was about “trying to come up with something that is inclusive, it is not about ruling something out”.
Cllr Monteith said that rather than head for a vote both positions could be satisfied by adopting the paper and setting up a workshop.
“I have no difficulty with people having talks, in around the 2016 period, we held events and I thought Council handled it fairly maturely,” said Cllr Monteith.
“A lot of it wasn’t as I would have liked it but I thought it was fairly balanced. I have no difficulty with people coming forward for next year.
“I don’t think this needs to be an either or scenario.”
Cllr Ashton reiterated her position, informing members that she had no problem talking to anyone but said she was concerned that a workshop would lead to members voting this down.
“I am still of the opinion the proposal here can be inclusive for all sections of the community,” said Cllr Ashton.
“Mr Chairman [Councillor John McNamee], if your party is going down the line of putting this to a workshop for the sake of trying to delay our community from marking events, that are important to us, in this district, I’m sorry but our party is not up for that.
“We want to ensure our community can be an inclusive part of this district.”
Cllr Dominic Molloy said he agreed with Cllr Monteith’s view that the paper can be passed and the workshop can be held.
“We do have to have discussions around how and what events we are going to run,” said Cllr Molloy.
“I am not denying anybody the right to celebrate what is dear to them but we do need to talk about it.”
SDLP councillor Martin Kearney said his party would have no problem supporting the paper but said a workshop would be very useful.
“I would be happy to go along with this proposal but if we need to have the workshop why not,” said Cllr Kearney. “I would say to Kim [Cllr Ashton], lets go with the flow.
“If there is a vote, well and good but I am happy, like Cllr Monteith, to go with the paper but if it takes a workshop lets have workshop.”
Ulster Unionist group leader, Councillor Walter Cuddy said it was a “good debate” and that he was inclined to agree with Cllr Monteith’s idea to go ahead with the paper and have a workshop as well.
Cllr Doris then said that this debate had been encouraging before clarifying that Cllr Corry had not proposed that the money would not be spent.
“Cllr Corry did not propose that the money would not go ahead, I would just like to clarify Sinn Fein never said they were against funding going into the decade of anniversaries.
Council’s director of business and communities, Adrian McCreesh then addressed the committee.
He explained that speaking from an officer’s point of view, the paper is “fair and equitable”.
“It is broad based and open to interpretation, of course it is, but there is nothing fundamentally wrong with it,” said Mr McCreesh.
“From a corporate perspective, the proposal to approve the paper and hold a workshop is by far the most appropriate.
“If members were minded, in the interest of relations, adopt what is here, subject to a workshop and then any issues can be addressed thereafter.”
Cllr Corry then clarified that she was happy for the funding to go ahead but thought the workshop would be useful.
Cllr Ashton said she was happy to go to a workshop and see the paper adopted but made clear her proposal to adopt the paper would stand.
“If it means we need a workshop after, I am more than happy to do that, as long as people are willing to come to the table and have a discussion,” said Cllr Ashton.
The committee Chair, Councillor John McNamee, said the workshop could be added on now to ensure that it happened and asked the chamber if they were of the same understanding.
Following further clarification, Cllr Ashton said she was happy for the workshop to be added to her proposal if the paper was adopted tonight.
Cllr Ashton’s proposal to adopt the paper and hold a workshop was then seconded by Cllr Doris and agreed by the chamber.
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