CITY councillors in Belfast have become embroiled in a fresh “red, white and blue” row.
Amid the ongoing Union Flag controversy, another dispute over British symbolism has erupted – this time, over the council’s rejection of a proposal to light the City Hall in Union Flag colours on the Queen’s official birthday.
As part of a new initiative, the 107-year-old building will be illuminated on six designated celebration days each year – including green on St Patrick’s Day and orange and purple on the Twelfth of July.
The proposals had been subjected to an equality screening process and came before a full council meeting on Monday evening.
Chinese New Year, Polish Independence Day, St Valentine’s Day and Gay Pride are the other four occasions when the building’s exterior will be transformed using various colour schemes.
However, the Ulster Unionist Party proposed the Queen’s official birthday and Armistice Day in November as two additional dates for inclusion during the course of the debate.
Although the Queen’s actual birthday falls on April 21, by tradition it is celebrated with the Trooping of the Colour on a Saturday in June – this year it will be June 15.
Alliance councillors claimed the suggested amendments should not have been introduced on the floor of the chamber and withheld their support.
As with the vote on December 3 – which restricted the flying of the Union Flag to designated days only – unionist councillors, lacking the support of Alliance, were defeated.
UUP councillor Bob Stoker described the outcome as “a major disappointment”.
He said: “As with the vote on the flying of the Union Flag, Alliance voted with Sinn Fein and the SDLP to erode as many visible signs of Britishness as possible.
“It is clear to those of us within City Hall that Alliance are now very much part of an anti-unionist front and this does not bode well for future relations within the council.”
But Maire Hendron, of Alliance, rejected Cllr Stoker’s criticism, saying that the original six-date proposal had come before the policy and resources committee in recent weeks and that no objections had been raised.
Speaking yesterday, Cllr Hendron said: “Last night the six dates that had been agreed came before the council. We had a ‘no’ vote [to the amendment] because we wanted them [the two other dates] to be equality screened like the other six had been.”
Cllr Hendron said her party had no objections to including the additional two days once the “proper” procedures have been followed.
“When it comes back [before the council] I have no doubt it will pass and we will vote that it happens,” she added.
Once the lighting initiative is operational, the City Hall will glow red and yellow for Chinese New Year 2014 (January 31), red and white for Polish independence celebrations (November 11), red for St Valentine’s Day (February 14) and the colours of the rainbow for Gay Pride (July 6).
It is expected that the first switching on of the new lights will coincide with the Gay Pride parade through the city in July.
With Polish Independence Day, which has already been approved for the scheme, and Armistice Day falling on the same date, it is not yet clear how the two could be accommodated.