Derry City and Strabane District Council’s decision to snub the Somme Commemoration event in the Waterfront Hall in Belfast in May will have to be reconsidered, Alderman David Ramsey has said.
Mr Ramsey said he had been annoyed and hurt by the decision not to officially recognise the supreme sacrifice made in the battle by hundreds of Catholic and Protestant men from the city and district, as well as an ‘offensive’ comment made by an independent republican councillor when The Queen’s birthday celebrations were being discussed.
“I am very annoyed,” said Mr Ramsey.
“I was at the Governance and Strategic Committee meeting when the topic of The Queen’s 90th Birthday Celebrations came up for discussion. I asked the council to consider a beacon for her birthday in the city and in the district. I proposed it and Derek Hussey in the UUP seconded it.
“Just as I had spoken and just prior to making the proposal, I still had the floor and was talking, when Councillor Gary Donnelly made the comment ‘Will she be on top of it?’”
Mr Ramsey said he expressed his disgust and feelings of being offended at what was said: “I am deeply annoyed that there was no attempt made by anyone in the council chamber to condemn the comments made by Councillor Donnelly.”
Mr Ramsey said a discussion on the impact of bonfires concluded with his suggestion a gas beacon be used.
Put to a vote, Mr Ramsey said four councillors voted in favour of the proposal, two against and the remainder abstained. A report on options for a local beacon has been ordered.
“To add insult to injury, The Somme Committee invite to the council, instead of being discussed democratically, was turned into a sectarian battle by Councillor Donnelly, who used the Bloody Sunday victims as a political football yet again.
“I made the comment that Derry City and Strabane District Council had in effect turned their back on the Somme commemoration by not sending an official delegation to the Army Benevolent Fund event at Waterfront Hall in Belfast. Committee members were told people could go on their own merit.
“Unionists, the families of those who died at the Somme, both Catholic and Protestant, feel let down and see this as back-peddling away from the cross-community nature of the funding applications which were submitted and granted because they were supposed to be just that - cross community,” Mr Ramsey said.
“It is well documented fact that the Somme was cross-community.
“Soldiers, both Catholic and Protestant, were at war for world freedom and people saw the opportunity here and signed up to obtain work, send money home and make a stand for freedom.
“The only people who fought at the Easter Rising from this area were the reserve soldiers from Buncrana and the local Londonderry Regiment.
“Look it up. Liam Brady was the officer commanding at that time over the republican volunteers; they did not take part.
“They were mobilised but once the 17 of them turned up they were stood down shortly afterwards.
“In point of fact, This city’s contribution to the Easter Rising began in our city with the smuggling of bullets out of Ebrington Barracks.
“They stole 3,000 bullets over a period of time, which were distributed to other areas through a tobacconist shop in the town, and were taken to Dublin and elsewhere.
“The sacrifice of the people of this area was from those who fought in the World War, in the Somme, and they were from both religions,” said Mr Ramsey.
“Gary Donnelly has done a great disservice to his own people and especially to those who fought and died for world peace.
“He has also damaged his relationship with the people of the Protestant, Unionist and Loyalist communities living in this city and beyond.
“The council decision to snub the event in the Waterfront Hall in Belfast does nothing for community relations.
“It is my view that the council will have to reconsider their decision not to officially attend this event. The Mayor has proposed events in support of the commemoration of the Easter Rising, yet hundreds of men from here, from this town fought and died in The Somme.
“Soldiers who died in the Easter Rising were, a lot of them, soldiers who had come back from The Somme and then were part of the reserve regiments that were sent to Dublin to fight in the Easter Rising.
“On Easter Monday many from this city and district will be at The Diamond War Memorial on Easter Monday, because I will commemorate the death and sacrifice made by all the local men and boys who left this city to fight in Dublin, who gave their lives having come back from The Somme, having brought great honour to their families, both Catholic and Protestant, for world peace.”