Unionist anger after row over memorial to B Specials

Unionists have accused Alliance Party members in a Northern Ireland council of a “shocking insult” towards the armed forces after they queried a proposal to erect a memorial to the B Specials at a park in Ballymena.

Friday, 8th November 2019, 7:00 am
Members of the B Specials - some of them with batons at the ready - take up position in Waterloo Place during the Battle of the Bogside

The row broke out at a meeting of Mid and East Antrim Borough council this week when the plan to place an obelisk marking the centenary of the formation of the Ulster Special Constabulary at Memorial Park in Ballymena was considered by members.

The council was told that the costs and maintenance for the memorial would be met by the Ulster Special Constabulary Association Mid Antrim Branch.

During the meeting Alliance representatives asked questions about whether an equality impact assessment would be carried out on the plan, sparking anger from unionist parties.

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DUP Alderman Gregg McKeen told the News Letter that the Alliance position was a “shocking insult to our armed services”.

He said: “This will be a fitting tribute to those who put their lives on the line to protect our communities. It will provide a place for our citizens to reflect and pay their respects to all those who served with such distinction.

“While this is an extremely positive move, I cannot ignore the shocking attitude to this memorial from some members of the Alliance Party. They did everything they could to obstruct this.

“While Sinn Fein remained silent, Alliance challenged the process repeatedly, despite being told that, as part of the process, this would be screened in line with normal protocols, but they refused to accept that.

“I’m very disappointed in the approach taken by some Alliance members who seem intent on driving an anti-services agenda.”

But Alliance representative Danny Donnelly insisted that there was no intention to offend anyone.

He said: “We were not trying to put up roadblocks, all we did was ask that the proposal be equality screened and that seemed a fairly reasonable approach.

“We just wanted to make sure that the equality impact assessment was carried out to ensure there is no detrimental effect on any section of the community.

“It was not intended as an insult to anyone and we hope that nobody was offended, we are just making sure the council undertakes its responsibilities on equality legislation. Nobody has anything to fear from equality.”

The motion backing the erection of the memorial was passed by council with no recorded vote taken.

A spokesperson for Mid and East Antrim Area council said: “The proposed memorial will be considered in line with the council’s Memorials and Commemorations Framework.”

The Ulster Special Constabulary, often known as the B Specials, was formed in 1920 as a reserve special constable police force. It was called out in times of emergency such as during the Irish War of Independence in 1920-22 and during the IRA border campaign in the 1950s. During its existence 95 members were killed in the line of duty.

The B Specials were disbanded in May 1970 after the Hunt Report which advised reshaping Northern Ireland’s security forces to attract more Catholic recruits.