Sinn Fein councillors ‘open to ridicule’ over threat to block cartoonist

Artist Brian John Spencer had requested access to Belfast City Hall to sketch during a council meeting
Artist Brian John Spencer had requested access to Belfast City Hall to sketch during a council meeting
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Sinn Fein have “opened themselves up to ridicule” by threatening to boycott a meeting at Belfast City Hall if an artist is allowed to depict the chamber and those present, a former lord mayor has said.

DUP councillor Brian Kingston was speaking after Sinn Fein councillors attempted to block a request by the artist Brian John Spencer to sketch the council chamber during a meeting.

Jeffrey Dudgeon

Jeffrey Dudgeon

The leader of the Sinn Fein grouping at Belfast City Council, Ciaran Beattie, highlighted “controversial cartoons” about his party by Mr Spencer as he voiced his opposition to the artist’s request.

A political cartoon by Mr Spencer last year depicted the former Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams standing at the scene of the 1976 Kingsmills massacre, when 10 Protestant men were killed by the IRA, with a loaf of Kingsmill-branded bread balanced on his head and blood streaking from a bullet-ridden van. It was titled ‘Sinn Fein’s red lines’.

Speaking at City Hall on Monday, Mr Beattie said: “The cartoonist will not have permission to draw me or, I’m sure, any of my colleagues.”

Sinn Fein were accused of attempting censorship by, amongst others, UUP councillor Jeffrey Dudgeon.

Sinn Fein councillor Arder Carson responded: “If you vote for this, I definitely won’t be here so you’re censoring me.”

He added: “You’ll be censoring me by me having to leave the chamber.”

The proposal to block the artist’s request was defeated on Monday night when it was voted down by all parties present except Sinn Fein.

Mr Dudgeon, speaking to the News Letter, said: “It is a worrying example of Sinn Fein whenever they think that they are in charge.They just can’t take criticism. Brian John Spencer hasn’t only singled Sinn Fein out in particular. Everyone is a potential target, particularly if they are being hypocritical or silly.”

He added: “It is worrying that an artist would be picked out in this way.”

Mr Kingston said: “They’ve opened themselves up to ridicule. They’re boycotting Westminster and the Assembly – now Belfast City Council as well?”

Mr Spencer did not address Sinn Fein’s opposition directly and instead chose to highlight the diverse range of events he has painted in the past.

“I’m a passionate Irish artist,” he said. “I’ve painted events ranging from gay pride in Belfast to an Ulster rugby match. I’ve painted the Malin GAA grounds and Cashel Castle in Tipperary, bars in Killarney and the Glenshane Pass.

“This island is a great place and possesses so much I want to paint.”