SINN Féin has slammed Ballymoney Council’s decision to award the Freedom of the Borough to the Territorial Army and the Royal Irish Regiment as ‘disgusting’.
The issue was raised during a recent Full Council meeting when minutes of the Corporate and Central Services meeting were adopted requesting additional funding to hold a Civic Ceremonial day to hand over the award.
Already £5,000 had been set aside from last year’s budget to finance the double freedom event, however a £2,500 extra was requested from the 2011/12 official visits budget.
The Corporate and Central Services report explained: ‘Council has decided to confer the Freedom of the Borough on the 152 (Ulster) Transport Regiment of the Royal Logistics Core of the Territorial Army and the Royal Irish Regiment. Budget provision has been made in the current financial year.
‘Initial contact has been made with the two organizations to extend Councils offer which has been put in writing and to seek confirmation and a contact person to liaise re. a mutually convenient date and other matters associated with the event.
‘Given the time required to organise the event and taking account of the local election period it is considered that it would not be possible to deliver the event before 31st March. The budget provision of £5,000 needs to be carried forward to the next financial year and consideration given to increasing to £7,500 given the additional cost associated with delivery of two freedoms including likely associated public events involving military personnel.
‘It was proposed by Cllr Evelyne Robinson, seconded by Cllr Ian Stevenson, that the £5,000 budget 2010/2011 which would go into Reserves be applied as a balance to rates in the next financial year 2011/2012. £7,500 provision for the Freedom event to be included in the 2011/12 official visits budget, an increase in budget of £2,500.
‘Cllr Anita Cavlan wished to be recorded as disagreeing with the event. However the Marketing sub-committee agreed to meet to consider the event upon receipt of initial advices from the two organisations.’
Expressing his disapproval at the Full meeting Cllr Philip McGuigan hit out: “My party is opposed to this entirely. The increase to the budget should not be agreed before we set the Rates.
“I am also disgusted that the Freedom of the Borough has been granted at all and we are opposed to this too. Why should ratepayers have to pay for this?
“No decision should be taken over the funding - all finance requests should be deferred and discussed at the Rates meeting.”
Cllr Malachy McCamphill suggested that ‘Such Freedom of the Borough should be for Stormont to honour and not for a local Council’.
In response Cllr Robinson once again explained that £5,000 had already been set and approved.
She added: “We’re not asking for a great amount of extra money. We simply want to praise the brave men, women and institutions who fight and risk their lives for us.
“If certain people are not happy across this table then there’s nothing I can do about that. But we should be proud to be honouring these people, pay tribute to their bravery and commitment.”
Agreeing Cllr Mervyn Storey hit back at Cllr McGuigan stating: “This Civic Ceremony is to recognise the UDR, RIR and other services who have work tirelessly to defend us. They have never lay behind hedges and murdered innocent people.
“They are to be held in great honour for their gallant service over the many years. What’s more it is local men and women served and that is why Ballymoney Borough Council and not Stormont are honouring them.
“It is disgraceful that we have to listen to these comments and I would like to be totally disassociated from your comments.”
Cllr Audrey Patterson also expressed her concern over Cllr McGuigan’s comments adding: “It is a disgrace that we had to hear such comments made by the Sinn Féin Council across the room here tonight.”
In a statement to the Times Loughiel Sinn Féin Councillor Anita Cavlan also strongly questioned Council’s plan.
Cllr Cavlan said: “Funding for what is a glorified party will effectively come out of the Rates and estimated costs are that this symbolic and unhelpful event will be the region of £7,500.
“It beggars belief that at a time when so many of us are dealing with severe cuts to our standard of living, Council thinks that a bun fight should see such an amount of money spent on them.”