Sunday closing bid by DUP defeated (September 1981)

Mr Sam Murphy, “the quietly spoken deputy mayor of Carrickfergus”, became the hero of the town’s young people during this week in 1981 when he single-handedly saved their Sunday swimming and other leisure facilities.

Friday, 10th September 2021, 9:46 am
Carrickfergus council's guests of honour at the event to mark the castle's 800th birthday celebrations. The Marquess and Marchioness of Donegall marched to the castle with mayors from all over Northern Ireland, councillors, organisations and bands. Picture: News Letter archives
Carrickfergus council's guests of honour at the event to mark the castle's 800th birthday celebrations. The Marquess and Marchioness of Donegall marched to the castle with mayors from all over Northern Ireland, councillors, organisations and bands. Picture: News Letter archives

Telling the district council that his philosophy was “Love thy Neighbour”, he apologetically but firmly used his decisive vote to crush by eight to seven the DUP proposal to shut the town’s leisure centre on Sunday and Monday.

But he did so only after failing to persuade the motion’s backers to postpone a decision until the council had held a special meeting to discuss fully the whole economic situation in the town.

With Carrickfergus council split down the middle with seven DUP votes, led by Alderman Ken McFaul, for closing the centre, opposed by three Official Unionists, three Alliance Members and independent loyalist Charlie Johnston, who was the chairman of the recreation committee, the Unionist deputy mayor had the power of decision.

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Crowds gathered to soak up sun and history in June 1980 when celebrations were held to mark Carrickfergus Castle's 800th birthday. Picture: News Letter archives

The DUP spokesman for the proposal emphasised the economic basis for it. Figures of costs, suggested savings, attendance figures on Sundays versus weekdays were bandied about – to the confusion of more than one councillor.

However, there were more speakers against the idea, and their voices carried much more emotion. Two representatives of the unions involved at the leisure centre were allowed to make a plea to keep seven day opening and save jobs and other arguments against the proposal ranged from the problems schools and clubs would face having to be fitted in to what was left of the week, to concern that Sunday closing would just make people travel for the Valley Leisure Centre or elsewhere instead.

“Closing the leisure centre will not make people go into church – in fact it would turn them against it,” warned Councillor Molly Ardill.

The council also decided not to turn its face against Enterprise Carrickfergus, the organisation set up to try and attract new industry to the area. It was told that EEC aid was available for the project and that the organisation was to start raising cash would would be matched with more money from European funds. But the cash was not to be charged to the rates.

At Craigavon, the DUP also failed to bring in prohibition on all borough council property.

By 12 votes to 6 after a two hour debate the council rejected a resolution tabled by deputy mayor, David Calvert that the consumption and sale of alcohol on all its premises be banned.

Six DUP councillors backed the move, five Official Unionists abstained but 12 others, including SDLP members, Republican Clubs, UUUP and four Official Unionists united to defeat the motion.

Another resolution in the name of former mayor, Herbert Whitten, which sought to ban the sale of alcohol at community and recreation centres, was “talked out”.

After a four hour debate the mayor, Mrs Mary Simpson, intervened to adjourn the discussion until a future date to be arranged.