Sinn Fein and SDLP Derry & Strabane Councillors have agreed to spend around £600 on beacons to celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday.
All nationalist and unionist parties all backed the move at the February meeting of the Council’s Health and Community Committee sitting in Strabane on Thursday, while concerns were raised by some of the Independent Councillors present.
The UK-wide Beacon Lighting Ceremony will mark Queen Elizabeth II’s official birthday on April 21, 2016.
The beacon lighting involves inviting the local dignitary such as the Lord Lieutenant, High Sheriff, Mayor or Council leader to light the beacon or run a competition to select someone from the community.
In a report presented at the meeting, various options for official beacons were presented, including large-scale, bonfire-like packages priced at up to £10,000.
Derry City & Strabane District Council however opted for the cheapest option available- a brazier-like structure on a pole costing £299 plus VAT.
A suggestion that they buy two- one for Derry and one for the rural and Strabane area- was also accepted.
Proposing this, DUP Councillor Hilary McClintock said: “this is a historic and unique occasion and a sizeable number of people throughout the city and district will want to celebrate that occasion.”
Colr. McClintock also described the Queen as a “lady who has devoted her life serving this country and her people”.
She added that some of the higher costs associated with the beacons were “extortionate” in her view, but added that in terms of equality, the council could buy two of the cheaper beacons. She also said that the organising of the event could be taken forward by the community or voluntary sector locally.
Sinn Fein Councillor Karina Carlin said that the general feeling was that in the interests of good relations, people wanted to give respect to other traditions, while also commented on the costs at the higher end of the beacon scale.
She added that the cheaper option brazier was the way agreed in the previous legacy councils to mark the Queen’s Jubilee.
“It is certainly not my tradition and certainly not something I aspire to but there are other rate payers in this council and if it is modest and sensible I am happy to second that,” Colr. Carlin said.
Independent Councillor Paul Gallagher then announced that the “honeymoon is over”, before listing his objections concerning bonfire celebrations.
“Councillors in this chamber here today have condemned the activity for bonfires and what this is saying is it is OK to have bonfires.
“This isn’t about the Queen, this is about this council promoting bonfires he said, adding that this was sending out the wrong message to those who wanted to have bonfires to mark other occasions.
“If we are going to eradicate bonfires we eradicate them full-stop. It doesn’t matter who they are for,” he said.
SDLP Councillor Martin Reilly said there was a “world of difference” between what was being suggested at the meeting and the bonfires Colr. Gallagher was referring to.
Colr. McClintock agreed and said that at most the beacon would be lit for 30 minutes at most.
“I would suggest Colr. Gallagher come along,” she added.
However Independent Councillor Gary Donnelly also raised objections along the same lines as Colr. Gallagher, and said: “I think it is irresponsible. It’s not about respecting other people’s tradition.”
He claimed that this was “not a sweet old lady”, and that “the British queen represents invasion, represents imperialism”.