Former mayor and ex-services councillor clash over Memorial ‘theme park’ comment

The War Memorial Park in Ballymena.

Former Ballymena DUP mayor Alderman Audrey Wales has reacted angrily to a comment made by Ulster Unionist councillor Keith Turner comparing Ballymena’s Memorial Park to a “theme park”.

Speaking at a meeting of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council last Monday evening, Larne Lough Councillor Keith Turner, who is from Kells, said that Ballymena Memorial Park was becoming “something of a theme park”.

Cllr Turner was commenting further to an application by the 12th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles Association to erect a memorial and information panel in tribute to the 36th Ulster Division.

Ald Wales, who proposed that the memorial should be approved, described Cllr Turner’s comment as “crass” and “a huge slight on the memories of those we remember and their families”.

In a statement issued to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Ald Wales said: “I know I’m not alone when I say I was appalled at the comparison of Ballymena’s Memorial Park to a theme park.

“Our Memorial Park provides a fitting sanctuary for families from right across the area to reflect and remember all our citizens who made the ultimate sacrifice.

“To liken it to a theme park is not only crass, it is a huge slight on the memories of those we remember and their families.

“Councillor Turner should know better and he should apologise for his deeply offensive remarks.”

Cllr Turner, who seconded the proposal, said at the meeting: “I’m all for it. However, I do feel that perhaps the memorial garden is now becoming a little overcrowded.

He added: “A memorial garden is a place of remembrance and reflection. I am just a little bit worried it is becoming something of a theme park.

“I always believe that people go there to remember not to go round to see the different things as if it is a display.

“I will second this, but In future, I think we need to look at what we are going to put in and how much ground there is as well.”

In response to criticism by Ald Wales, he said: “During the meeting the subject of a memorial to the 36th Ulster Division was raised for acceptance to the Council.

“Alderman Wales MBE spoke first and proposed that the motion be accepted. I followed and seconded the proposal and in doing so urged the council to be mindful of the amount of memorials and notice boards that we accepted into the park so that we didn’t turn the area into a theme park.

“Having served in the armed forces for over 20 years and having been to several areas of conflict, I know that military personnel never wish to glorify their service but wish it to be acknowledged in a dignified and proper manner.

“I personally chose and designed the memorial in my home villages of Kells and Connor, I am the treasurer of the 1\9 UDR 9 R Irish Windows and Colours committee at the regimental church of St Saviour’s in Connor and I am the Council’s representative for military cadets.

“Ald Wales’ suggestion that I am trying to belittle service personnel and their memories is quite frankly appalling and nothing more than a political stunt to try and get some recognition for her own ambitions.

“I will make it perfectly clear, in my opinion, a memorial garden is a place of quiet reflection and remembrance for those that have lost comrades as I have, and for those who wish to pay their respects to all who have served and in particular to remember those who paid with the ultimate sacrifice.”

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