An invitation by the British Army’s National Charity for their Somme Commemoration event in Belfast has been branded “grossly offensive” and “vile” as official attendance was voted down in the Council Chamber this afternoon.
A unionist proposal to send the Mayor or Deputy Mayor and the Chief Executive of Derry City & Strabane District Council to attend the event on behalf of the local authority, was thwarted by four vote to nine against after Sinn Fein, the SDLP and Independent Councillors voted against it.
The matter was discussed at the monthly meeting of the Council’s Governance & Strategic Planning Committee on Tuesday evening.
The ABF Soldiers’ Charity (formerly the Army Benevolent Fund) provides support to soldiers and former soldiers of the British Army.
The organisation, the committee members sitting at the Guildhall were told, plans to hold a flagship ‘Parting Glass’ Concert at Belfast’s Waterfront Hall on May 7 to commemorate the Battle of the Somme, with an invitation to attend issued to local councils.
In a letter to the council, ABF Regional Director David Forsey said the event, hosted by TV presenter Paul Clarke, will be “a show-case of home grown talent”, with “finger food and drinks”.
It talks about a reception where finger food and drinks will be served. I think it’s vile; I think it’s disgusting, and coming this week it’s an absolute insult to the people of this city.Independent COuncillor Gary Donnelly
Independent Councillor Warren Robinson said the timing of this invitation, coming as it did around the anniversary of Bloody Sunday massacre was a “huge insult to the people of Derry”.
He went on to say that Mike Jackson, an officer in the Parachute Regiment in Derry on January 30, 1972, was president of this organisation and that as such the invite was “grossly offensive” to a council which has supported the Bloody Sunday families.
Colr. Robinson advocated that the council have nothing to do with it.
UUP Councillor Derek Hussey in contrast proposed that the Mayor or Deputy Mayor and Chief Executive attend the event representing the area. His proposal was seconded by DUP Councillor Drew Thompson.
Independent Councillor Gary Donnelly however said the decorated members of the board of this organisation “didn’t get them for peace building”.
“They describe Mike Jackson as ‘hugely respected’”, he added. “That is not the view of the people of the city.”
He also contrasted the support the organisation gave to soldiers with the lot of those killed by the army in Derry and their relatives, like Manus Deery, Daniel Hegarty and Stephen McConomy.
“Some of them haven’t even got Inquests,” he said, adding:
“It talks about a reception where finger food and drinks will be served. I think it’s vile; I think it’s disgusting, and coming this week it’s an absolute insult to the people of this city.”
DUP Councillor Graham Warke praised the ABF organisation, saying they “do amazing work” and offer a life-time of support to soldiers and families in need.
“They have been doing this since 1944 and work with veterans of every conflict, and will continue doing it over the long haul,” he said.
He also said that he would be attending the event alongside the Deputy Mayor, DUP Councillor Thomas Kerrigan.
Sinn Fein Councillor Mickey Cooper also made reference to Mike Jackson and said that while it was up to individual councillors whether they wished to go, his party did not believe that a council delegation “in any shape or form” should be dispatched to this event.
SDLP Councillor Martin Reilly said the letter came through as an invitation and was dated January 4, and reiterated the point made by Colr. Cooper that it was up to individuals if they wanted to attend.
“I don’t think our party will be taking up the invitation,” he said.
Speaking after the vote, DUP Councillor David Ramsey said that the council “has just turned its back on the Somme commemoration”.
Chair of the Committee, Sinn Fein Councillor Karina Carlin, pointed out that other Somme related business had been dealt with earlier without any issue, but that this item had been somewhat different in nature.