Backlash after councillor brands city cenotaph ‘grotesque’

A Londonderry councillor has provoked outrage after branding the city’s landmark war memorial “grotesque” – and claiming council funds should not be used for maintenance work on the cenotaph.

Independent member Gary Donnelly voiced his views on the matter after a full meeting of Derry City and Strabane Council on Thursday evening.

The war memorial in the Diamond, Londonderry.

The war memorial in the Diamond, Londonderry.

Cllr Donnelly said: “We have what I would see as a grotesque war memorial, glorifying violence, right in the city centre, with graphic scenes of violence.

“It’s not owned by council, therefore council should have no responsibility in maintaining it. I think there are better ways we could be using rates.”

In a Facebook interview with journalist Leona O’Neill, Cllr Donnelly added: “People have the right to commemorate their dead, but that’s the people who should be looking after this.”

He later told the News Letter he believed other independent councillors shared some of his views on the matter.

Independent councillor Gary Donnelly

Independent councillor Gary Donnelly

Cllr Donnelly also said he had been subjected to “raw, vile hatred” online following the initial interview.

“There was sectarian abuse and there was personal abuse. This type of vile, nasty sectarianism will not put me off.”

“I did a poll on my own Facebook page – on whether the council should pay for the upkeep of the war memorial – and within about 12 hours nearly 600 people had responded, and 96% of them said ‘no,’ that it isn’t council responsibility. But that just shows how polarised as a society.”

Cllr Donnelly added: “If republicans asked for their monuments in the city to be maintained by council, because they are built on council property, there would be an uproar from within unionism and quite rightly.”

In 2016, the republican representative also objected to the council spending around £250,000 on restoring the memorial.

DUP MLA Gary Middleton described Cllr Donnelly’s remarks as “deeply offensive”.

Mr Middleton said: “This is a very important site, not to one section of the community but to all sections who fought, and served and died in the world wars. It is deeply offensive that Gary Donnelly should come out with the remarks that he has. The cenotaph should not be politicised.”

Mr Middleton added: “The cenotaph has an almost 50/50 representation in terms of Protestant and Catholic names. It is very much for all of the community.”

“It is widely recognised that the cenotaph needs refurbished and it needs to be made safe, because there has been a lot of deterioration in recent years. We have had confirmation that the council are responsible for the maintenance, obviously much to the annoyance of Gary Donnelly.”

DUP councillor Graham Warke said he was not surprised at Cllr Donnelly “grabbing a headline,” but that many people were “not too happy”.

He said: “It doesn’t surprise me one bit. We have elections coming in May so we will probably hear more of this.

“Generally there is more respect and more understanding, but it’s just unfortunate there are still some people living in the stone age.

“This war memorial represents all the brave men from this city, from both backgrounds, and it is a major part of my life. My great grandfather’s name is on that war memorial along with many other brave men from this city, and they are all a million times the person Gary Donnelly is.”