Unionists enraged at Jubilee snub

A DISCUSSION over a request for £250 funding for a celebration to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee turned into a heated exchange between nationalists and unionists in Limavady.

Wednesday, 18th April 2012, 1:32 pm

Unionist members at Limavady Borough Council pointed to what they called “hard and fast evidence that unionism is being neglected” in the nationalist dominated council chamber last night, during what should have been a routine committee meeting.

Fiery and sometimes even bizarre exchanges took place during a row over £250 of funding for a small-scale charitable Diamond Jubilee celebration.

Accusations of sectarianism were flung to and fro, with tempers flaring after Sinn Féin and SDLP councillors voted down a proposal to allow the Roe Valley Diamond Jubilee Charity Committee use of the Arts and Cultural Centre and £250 of funding for light refreshments.

DUP man George Robinson, also an MLA, said that rejecting the proposal would “send out a terrible message.” He said: “It is for charity! If the group wants to come to me for funding I would be happy to fund it – just an hour ago this council voted to put in a gate for a farmer, regardless of cost. This is just £250.”

Councillors from both the SDLP and Sinn Féin pointed out that funding had already been set aside for Diamond Jubilee celebrations, and that the deadline for applications had now passed.

The proposal was voted down by seven votes to six. This prompted an emotional speech from DUP councillor James McCorkell, who said: “This council stands accused of hypocrisy. There is already deep resentment within the unionist community.

“All that is going to come out of this is that there was a spat. We can’t keep going on with the perception that the unionist community is being left out. We have heard hard and fast evidence that unionism is being neglected.”

UUP Councillor Edwin Stevenson added: “Could I congratulate Councillor McCorkell for speaking up about real unionism tonight. He has recognised the real pain that unionism is feeling.

“I am shocked that this group is being asked to pay to use the Roe Valley Arts and Cultural Centre. We don’t need all these policies and guidelines. That is only to cover up inadequacies.”

TUV man Boyd Douglas added: “It is sad that we’ve got to the stage that Councillor McCorkell felt the need to speak up about this. Sometimes unionists don’t get a fair say.” Addressing the Sinn Féin members, he said: “For those of you who don’t know, this only happens every 60 years! The money is going to be donated to the Belfast Hospital for Sick Children. They are now going to miss out.”

These exchanges prompted the Deputy Mayor, SDLP councillor Orla Beattie to say: “If this only happens once every 60 years, should they not have been organised and applied for the funding which was set aside, and which I voted in favour of, for Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

“This is my first year as a councillor. To listen to the bigoted comments – from both sides of the Chamber – I laid the wreath on Remembrance Sunday, and I was very proud to do so. I have always worked hard to represent all the people of my constituency.

“I am sorry and deeply disappointed at the generalisations that the nationalist community is against the unionist. If that were the case, I would not have voted in favour of the £20,000 funding set aside for the Diamond Jubilee. I am fed up listening to it!”

Apparently personal problems between councillors also came to the fore, with Sinn Féin councillor Tony McCaul saying: “They wouldn’t give us the light of day in the corridor – but their bosses up in Stormont have plenty of cosy wee chats with Republicans.”

The acrimonious exchanges involving the Queen’s Jubilee at Limavady Borough Council go back to January this year, when Sinn Féin councillor Anne Brolly accused the SDLP of being a “royalist party after voting thousands of pounds to celebrate the British Queen’s diamond jubilee”.

Sinn Féin voted against a proposal to allocate £20,000 of funding to Olympics and Jubilee celebrations, with Anne Brolly saying: “We thought that a total of £20,000 was too high given the current economic downturn and the fact that only one community would be celebrating the British Queen’s Jubilee.”

Remarkably, UUP councillor Edwin Stevenson, while standing by his original comments regarding sectarianism from Sinn Féin, did offer an apology to SDLP woman Orla Beattie. He said: “If an apology is needed I will quite gladly offer that, because she has done very good work since she has been here.”

Anne Brolly summed up the Sinn Féin position: “This was an application which was made after the deadline. If we allow this one, how can we go back to the schools who had very worthy applications which were rejected because they were after the deadline? To say that Sinn Féin is sectarian is ridiculous. Sectarianism is against the very ethos of Republicanism. It is for Catholic, Protestant and dissenter.”