Unionist leader speaks out as councillors reject NI centenary lighting... whilst approving it for Black History Month, the NSPCC, diabetes, and pancreatitis
The DUP group leader on a nationalist-dominated council has hit out over a refusal to consider lighting up public buildings to mark Northern Ireland’s centenary.
Paul McClean accused Sinn Fein (the biggest bloc on Mid Ulster District Council) of paying mere “lip service” to ideas like “inclusivity”, and of speaking “with a forked tongue”.
Whilst special lighting to commemorate the foundation of the state was rejected, it was approved for other causes such as Black History Month.
A row over the matter erupted out into the open at last Thursday’s meeting of the council’s Policy and Resources Committee.
The council as a whole is dominated by nationalists / republicans, and the committee reflects this – it has seven Sinn Fein members, three SDLP ones, four DUP, and two UUP.
Five requests had been received to light up three different buildings which are used as visitor centres: the Burnavon Centre in Cookstown, Ranfurly House in Dungannon, and The Bridewell in Magherafelt.
The requests were for World Diabetes Day (November 14), World Pancreatic Awareness Day (November 18), NSPCC’s Walk for Children Day (December 21), plus a late request to light up the buildings for Black History Month (October).
The last request was from the Northern Ireland Office, concerning the illumination of public buildings across the UK in blue and green on October 22 for NI’s centenary.
UUP councillor Walter Cuddy said he would like to see all five accepted.
But councillor Niamh Doris of Sinn Fein said that as an Irish Republican she opposed the “celebration of something that deserves no celebration, which is the partition of this island”.
Councillor Cuddy responded by appealing for the council “to respect all minorities”, saying: “If it was Portugal Day or Polish Day there would be no problem. All we are asking is to respect what we all agreed to in the Good Friday Agreement.”
Councillor Dominic Molloy of Sinn Fein told the meeting that it was council policy that “the lighting up of our buildings is for charitable organisations” only.
Councillor Cuddy replied that he could recall buildings being lit up for the 75th anniversary of the United Nations, and noted it is not a charitable organisation.
“Maybe this is the way council works: we have a policy, but we just make it suit whatever is required by certain people at certain times,” he said.
“We have had our buildings lit up for non-charitable organisations in the past and all we are doing is asking our fellow councillors to respect what we all agreed to in the Good Friday Agreement.
“This is not an attempt to change the world of any Irish Republican, but it should be remembered that this place is for us all and not just for one party or political view point.”
Ultimately a vote was taken to accept the first four requests but refuse the centenary one.
DUP group leader and council chairman Mr McClean told the News Letter today: “They [SF] speak with a forked tongue.
“It’s as simple as that. We asked it be there to mark the centenary, not as a celebration. Unionists still make up a large proportion of Mid Ulster, and under equality we have a right as much as others have.
“I keep saying that 95–98% of everything discussed in council is agreeable [to all]. As a council, we function extremely well.
“But when it comes to things like this, with our culture or our traditions, they simply just obliterate us.
“They talk about reaching out, inclusivity – but all these things are only words.”
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