Alliance’s Danny Donnelly alleges Council ‘double standards’ regarding handling of events involving Irish language and Ulster-Scots

AN Alliance councillor says there have been “double standards” regarding how Mid & East Antrim Borough Council has handled events involving the Irish language and Ulster-Scots.

Larne Lough councillor Danny Donnelly took to social media following the main monthly meeting of the Council this week to write: ‘Disappointed to see Mid and East Antrim Council reject the opportunity to support an event to promote and showcase the Irish Language within the Borough tonight particularly as Council agreed to support an event during Ulster Scots Week last month’.

He ended with the Twitter hashtag ‘double standards’.

At the meeting in Ballymena, Deputy Mayor Cllr Beth Adger (DUP, Braid) – who was in the chair in the absence of the Mayor – said a report prepared for councillors referred to approval being sought to host an event in the Borough as part of Irish Language Week in 2020 and asked for a proposer and a seconder.

The Council report said Conradh na Gaelige wrote to the Mayor’s Office and Chief Executive’s Office to ‘encourage Mid and East Antrim Borough Council to promote and showcase the Irish language within the Borough.

‘The organisation has also requested that Council provide a specific fund to local Irish Language Community Groups to support them to organise their own events.’

The report prepared for councillors said Conradh na Gaeilge indicated they were available to assist the Council with engagements with the local community and with the promotion of the language.

The report said a community event could include one of the following options: ‘an introductory language session in one of the Council’s community centres; ‘Performance by a local Comhaltas (music group) in a local community centre’; ‘a social media campaign around Irish Language Week and a photocall with the Mayor’.

The Council report had said: ‘With regards the request for Council to consider providing funds to local Irish Language groups to help them to organise their own events it is proposed that groups are referred to the Council’s grants scheme.

‘As part of the Good Relations Programme there is provision for projects that explore places and cultures within the Borough.

‘The Good Relations Programme is supported by The Executive Office at 75 per cent and Mid and East Antrim Borough Council at 25 per cent of the overall costs.

‘Council’s grant programme is available for groups across the Borough to make application for support for eligible events.

‘An event such as this would sit well under the Executive Office’s Together: Building a United Community Strategy theme of Our Cultural Expression – which seeks to ‘create a community, which promotes mutual respect and understanding, is strengthened by its diversity and where cultural expression is celebrated and embraced’.

The report recommended that the Council provided ‘approval to host an event as part of Irish Language Week 2020 in the Mid and East Antrim Borough’.

The Council meeting pack showed letters from Conradh na Gaelige to the Mayor, Cllr Maureen Morrow (Ulster Unionist, Coast Road) and Chief Executive Anne Donaghy, included one written exclusively in Irish followed by an English language version.

At the meeting Ballymena SDLP councillor Eugene Reid proposed accepting the recommendation in the report, seconded by Coast Road Sinn Fein councillor James McKeown.

Cllr Eugene Reid said he noted that the report made reference to creating a community which promoted “mutual respect and understanding” and one which was strengthened by cultural diversity being celebrated and enhanced.

“For that reason I would very much like to propose it”, said Cllr Reid.

Bannside TUV councillor Timothy Gaston said he wanted to put forward an alternative proposal “as we have done in other years, if the Mayor wants to host an event she is quite within her rights to do so”.

He didn’t think “that the organisation should be getting preferential treatment”.

The councillor added: “This is something that happens on a yearly basis and our grants scheme is there to support any group that is wishing to organise an event or host anything so I would like to propose that going by what we have done in other years it is up to the Mayor if she wishes to host an event, I don’t think it should be done by the corporate body”.

Cllr Matthew Armstrong (TUV, Ballymena) seconded Cllr Gaston’s amendment.

Councillor Donnelly said last month the Council supported an Ulster-Scots Week event.

Cllr Gaston called for a recorded vote on his amendment.

There were 17 votes for Cllr Gaston’s amendment, ten against and eight abstentions which meant the amendment was passed.

Regarding discussions at the Council about Ulster-Scots, a recording on the Council’s website of the main November meeting of the Council shows that the Mayor, Maureen Morrow, read out a report prepared for councillors which she said ‘seeks your approval to host a small programme of events across the Borough as part of the Ulster-Scots Leid Week in partnership with the Ulster Scots Agency’ and she asked for a proposer and a seconder.

DUP councillor Gregg McKeen (Larne Lough) said he was happy to propose and Alliance councillor Robert Logan (Larne Lough) said he was happy to second it but he said he just wanted to “refer back to last year when we turned down a request by the Irish language people to host a small event and I think we should bear that in mind should we have a future request about that”.

Chief Executive Anne Donaghy said that was “not completely accurate”.

She said the Council did not “turn down” the event and said there was a decision made about how they would deal with it “but it wasn’t turned down”.

Alderman Paul Reid (DUP, Larne Lough) said he hosted an event when he was Mayor and upstairs at The Braid was “packed” with over 300 people and there was no issue with that and that was “for the Irish language”.

Cllr Logan said he appreciated the efforts Alderman Reid had made on that occasion.

Mayor Maureen Morrow had then said she had a proposer and a seconder regarding the Ulster-Scots report and asked if councillors were all in agreement and replies came back as ‘agreed’ without a vote being taken.

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