A COUNCILLOR on Mid & East Antrim Borough Council has resigned from a committee after a row erupted at a meeting in Ballymena about linking a festival to the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day.
Following a proposal by Larne DUP councillor Gregg McKeen a majority of the council’s 40 councillors backed giving the Friends’ Goodwill Festival a VE Day commemoration “theme” as it will be held on the same weekend in 2020.
However, Carnlough Sinn Fein councillor James McKeown said the festival was a “civic” festival and the VE event could be termed a “military celebration.
When a majority of councillors backed Cllr McKeen’s motion, Cllr McKeown said he would be standing down from the Friends’ Goodwill steering group.
The council’s Friends’ Goodwill steering group is made up of councillors from the Larne Lough and Coast Road district electoral areas. Cllr McKeown is one of the Coast Road councillors.
The Friends’ Goodwill Festival commemorates a ship called Friends’ Goodwill which left Larne for America.
It was believed to be the first the first specific emigrant ship from Ulster in the 18th century.
During this year’s Festival, which was supported by Tourism NI, there was a public remembrance service at a bronze memorial at Larne’s Curran Park marking the departure of the ship 302 years ago.
Other events included live music, family entertainment, children’s activities and, according to publicity material, ‘Ulster-Scots history and culture’.
At the council meeting in Ballymena this week, Councillor McKeen said the 75th anniversary of VE Day falls on the same weekend next year as the Friends’ Goodwill Festival and he proposed that the Council “theme” the Friends Festival with the VE Day commemoration “and use this as a showcase to show our commemoration and our thanks for those that took part in the VE…at the time 75 years ago…but it also gives us the opportunity that we as a Council can have the event and make it a largescale event around a military theme.”
He said he wanted to tie it all in to mark it with “something special”.
The proposal was seconded by Ballymena Independent councillor Rodney Quigley.
Cllr McKeown said: “I recognise that the VE Day anniversary is a very important event but I would disagree with Cllr McKeen to tie it in with Friends’ Goodwill, one is a civic celebration and the other could be termed a military celebration and I don’t think that we should be linking the two.”
Cllr McKeown proposed an amendment to possibly move the Friends’ Goodwill to the weekend before or the weekend after.
Coast Road Alliance councillor Gerardine Mulvenna, said they had a five year plan and she agreed with Cllr McKeown “it would be best” to have it on a different weekend and she seconded the proposal.
A vote on the amendment – a show of hands – to move the Friends’ Goodwill Festival to another date next year was ten in favour and 24 against with four abstentions.
At that stage Cllr McKeown said he would be standing down from the Friends’ Goodwill steering group.
With the amendment falling, Cllr McKeen’s proposal was put to the meeting – that of combining the VE Day event with the Friends’ Goodwill.
Ald Mulvenna said she was not against celebrating VE Day but she didn’t believe the two events should be on the same weekend.
The vote then was 26 in favour of amalgamating the events next year with two against and nine abstentions.