Derry & Strabane Council’s decision not to attend a forthcoming Garden Party hosted by Queen Elizabeth II, has been branded “an absolute insult” by a DUP Alderman.
The issue raised it’s head again at Derry City & Strabane District Council’s monthly meeting in the Guildhall, after a ‘Call In’ by unionist representatives led to a re-vote.
Councillors were reminded that at a previous meeting in January that the Department of Communities has invited a council representative to attend a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace in May-June, organised to recognise those people on the Queen’s New Years Honours List.
A proposal for the Mayor, Deputy Mayor or chair of a relevant committee to attend, and that the costs be covered by the council, however, was not successful, while a Sinn Fein proposal, suggesting that those who wished to attend could do so, but would pay their own expenses, was passed by 16 votes to 15.
The council was told a formal request for the decision to be re-considered was then received. Those who signed the ‘Call In’ said the decision was not in keeping with previous council protocol and would adversely impact on the unionist community who would “feel they are being snubbed.”
One of those who submitted the Call In, DUP Alderman Drew Thompson, said he wished to point out that the invite to council was a civic invitation.
He said that in all such instances on the past, even before the amalgamation of the two councils, it had been “custom and practise right across the board” that such invites would be passed along if the Mayor or Deputy Mayor could not attend.
“In this case we broke from tradition, custom and practise that has been there for many a year,” he said. Addressing Mayor Maolíosa McHugh, Alderman Thompson said: “It went to a decision and you used your casting vote, which you are quite entitled to do, but you are supposed to be a Mayor for all the people and there is a 35 per cent unionist population who would have been willing to have a representative from this council.”
He added that there were also nationalist representatives would also would have been happy to have representation, adding that the council decision was showing disrespect to the majority of the people of this city.
“The refusal to send someone is an absolute insult to the people here,” he added.
He said that in the interests of respect and equality, the council should reconsider it’s earlier decision.
Mayor Maoliosa McHugh said that the Alderman had confirmed there was absolutely nothing sectarian about the decision and that it had been made on an entirely different basis, which centred around preventing ratepayers from having to foot the bill.
Alderman Thompson, however, said that the council had accepted other invitations in the past including an invite to a Garden Party hosted by the President of Ireland “and it was not at any stage, talked about the cost.”
UUP Colr. Derek Hussey said the invitation had been extended to the body corporate for an event “at which many of our citizens were receiving recognition from Her Majesty and the body corporate was denied the opportunity to be there along with the citizens.”
SDLP Colr. Martin Reilly said that regardless of who the invitation was sent from, be it concerning the Irish President or the Queen, it should be treated like all other invitations and protocol should be maintained.”
Sinn Fein Colr.Eric Mc-Ginley earlier denied that the proposal his party had put forward in January was inconsistent with council protocol and proposed that council accept the original decision.
His proposal was seconded by Independent Colr. Gary Donnelly, and was backed by a total of 20 councillors to 18 against, confirming the council’s decision not to send any representative in an official capacity.