Monarchy 'an institution whose time should have ended hundreds of years ago' : Derry Councillor

Derry City and Strabane councillors were divided over whether to mark King Charles III’s coronation, which is set to take place on May 6, 2023, at Westminster Abbey in London.
Prince Charles. (Photo by Jonathan Brady - WPA Pool/Getty Images)Prince Charles. (Photo by Jonathan Brady - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Prince Charles. (Photo by Jonathan Brady - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Unionist representatives have accused the council of ‘ignoring’ Protestant, Unionist, and Loyalist (PUL) community events, while socialist, nationalist, and republican councillors have criticised what one predicted will be a ‘obscene spectacle’ of wealth in light of a cost of living crisis.

At a council meeting on March 7, the Governance and Strategic Planning Committee was told that there was “no provision within existing budgets”. The NI Office previously indicated that a total of £45k funding was to be granted to local authorities to contribute towards the cost of hosting local screenings. Lottery funding was also available.

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Stephen Gillespie, Director of Business and Culture, provided an update from the March meeting, saying the council would assist with bin collections, provide portable loos and barriers for the day, and offer health and safety support and marketing.

People Before Profit Councillor Shaun Harkin. People Before Profit Councillor Shaun Harkin.
People Before Profit Councillor Shaun Harkin.

Alderman Hussey accused council of ‘ignoring or not paying enough attention to the needs of a major minority within the community’.

He said: “I think council is going to have to raise their empathy level of the concerns that exist within, in particular the PUL community going forward, and events that pertain to that section of our wider community. I welcome suggestions going forward as to how council can engage and assist with various events.”

Alderman Maurice Devenney expressed the concerns of the wider PUL that ‘they aren’t getting enough support’, before Councillor Shaun Harkin said that ‘this isn’t a green and orange issue we see it as an issue of class’.

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The People Before Profit representative said: “We’re concerned that the council may get bogged down in trying to figure out how to take council resources and time to celebrate a coronation.

Independent Councillor Gary Donnelly.Independent Councillor Gary Donnelly.
Independent Councillor Gary Donnelly.

“This is about normalising the idea that some are born into privilege for no reason other than their birthline and inherit castles, inherit billions and billions of pounds, and inherit jewellery, and everybody else is supposed to be happy with their lot.”

He added: “I think for socialists here in Ireland and socialists across the world are going to have the same view on this, that this is an institution whose time should have ended hundreds of years ago when science came along to prove bloodlines were of no importance.”

Meanwhile, SDLP’s Brian Tierney said unionist councillors were aware of the event approaching. Accusing them of ‘sitting on their hands,’ he added: “No unionist elected representative to the best of my knowledge raised this within this council to see how council would mark this event or what support we will be offering to groups looking to mark this event.”

“I’ve spoken to colleagues from councils across the north when we were going through the rates process and some of those councils were actually making allowances for the coronation. It wasn’t once mentioned in Derry and Strabane and then to come in and suggest that we were late to the party. We weren’t, it wasn’t raised, it wasn’t an issue until the groups sent in a letter which resulted in the meeting that Stephen and Ellen attended, which has resulted in the outcome that we have today.”

Ulster Unionist Alderman Derek Hussey.Ulster Unionist Alderman Derek Hussey.
Ulster Unionist Alderman Derek Hussey.
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Independent councillor Gary Donnelly said unionist councillors were ‘asleep at the wheel,’ adding that the coronation was an ‘obscene spectacle.’

He said: “It’s fundamental for me. Some people may dress it up and say, Oh, it’s a minority’ or ‘British people this and that’, but it’s an institution that represents 800 years of oppression and the ongoing denial of democratic rights to the people of this island.”

Colr Donnelly suggested inviting PUL groups to attend the council’s conversation on the matter.

“I think we invite them when we have the conversation, and as soon as possible. We had a similar issue not that long ago regarding the Apprentice Boys, and some councillors, an Alderman here, went and had a meeting, and forgive me, I could be wrong, but I don’t see any feedback from that meeting. Could we have some feedback for our members on what happened and how we move forward.”

Gillian Anderson

Local Democracy Reporter