Unionists clash over plans for Easter Rising commemorations

DUP group leader Cllr Phillip Brett (left) and UUP council group leader Alderman Mark Cosgrove.
DUP group leader Cllr Phillip Brett (left) and UUP council group leader Alderman Mark Cosgrove.
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A bitter row has erupted between the DUP and Ulster Unionist Party over council plans to commemorate the centenary of the Easter Rising.

The two largest parties on Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council are at loggerheads over moves to mark the 100th anniversary of the armed insurrection in April 1916, when a group of Irish republicans attempted to overthrow British rule in Ireland.

Last month, following a lengthy debate in the council chamber, members backed a motion paving the way for Easter Rising commemorations to take place across the borough.

A majority of councillors voted for the formation of a working group to look at creating “a proportionate Easter Rising commemoration programme”.

DUP members, who opposed the move, have since hit out at the Ulster Unionist Party for backing the formation of the working group and stressed that they will not be supporting the council’s Easter Rising Commemoration Committee.

However, the UUP this week hit back, accusing the DUP of “playing ‘super prod’ in the council chamber”.

DUP group leader in Antrim and Newtownabbey, Councillor Phillip Brett, commented: “DUP councillors will not be taking their seats on the recently formed working group which has been tasked with establishing an Easter Rising commemorative programme.

“Whilst we acknowledge the significance of the events surrounding the Easter Rebellion and their place in the history of these islands, they bear little relevance to the residents of our borough.”

Cllr Brett said he had been disappointed that UUP members hadn’t backed a DUP amendment ‘noting’ the centenary.

“In the interests of goodwill, my party proposed an amendment to the Sinn Fein motion, which we believed was both respectful and appropriate. It was particularly disappointing that the Ulster Unionist Party then decided not to support us, despite many of their members sharing our concerns,” he continued.

“The Easter Rising was not only a violent attack on the United Kingdom but on democracy as a whole and, as such, doesn’t command broad support from people of all traditions. It is not in keeping with normal council protocol to actively fund single identity celebrations. Indeed, council has not funded any single identity events during this decade of centenaries and we believe such a decision sets a very dangerous precedent.”

Cllr Brett said that while he and his colleagues would not be taking part in organising commemoration events, they would “strongly resist any attempts to celebrate the Easter Rising on the streets of our borough.”

Hitting back at his DUP counterpart, Alderman Mark Cosgrove, the UUP group leader in Antrim and Newtownabbey, accused the DUP of “being defeatist and playing ‘super prod’ in the council chamber whilst being Sinn Fein’s partner in Stormont’s dysfunctional Executive.”

“Once again we see negative and defeatist unionism running away from a subject that has been traditionally difficult for us all to become involved in,” he commented. “As a result what we have seen has been that the unionist narrative has been airbrushed out of history and in no case is that more evident that in the rewriting of history often seen in the 1916 Easter Rising, with little or no mention of the views of ordinary Dubliners and the role of HM forces.”

Accusing the DUP of “blatant electioneering”, Alderman Cosgrove said that the committee hasn’t met yet and stressed that no budget has been allocated to any commemoration events.

“Sitting on a unionist controlled sub-committee, making a recommendation to a unionist dominated council holds no fears for the Ulster Unionist Party,” he continued. “We will continue to work with all parties in our council chamber to create balanced, coherent outcomes.”

Meanwhile, UKIP’s South Antrim Assembly election candidate Robert Hill has also criticised the UUP, branding its stance “an electioneering stunt”.

“I am disgusted that the Ulster Unionist Party, who faced with an election, have once again decided to try to appease others for their own ends,” he commented.

“The UUP has supported this commemoration simply to try and gain favour in certain areas and claw votes from those who would traditionally vote for Alliance or others.”

The former DUP councillor added: “In UKIP, we speak up and we stand up for the everyday working class unionist and loyalist people. We have zero interest in celebrating this farce and we do not want ratepayers’ money spent on this kind of rewriting of history.”