A REQUEST for funding to “celebrate the formation of the Ulster Defence Regiment” sparked controversy at a meeting of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council in Ballymena on Monday night.
The request was made by Carrickfergus UDR Veterans’ Association.
The association plans to parade through Carrickfergus to the cenotaph on April 4 for a short religious service before a meal and entertainment.
Previously the UDR was granted the Freedom of the former Carrickfergus Borough Council.
On Monday night, Mid & East Antrim Borough Council agreed to the request for £1,000 financial support.
Councillors were also invited to attend the event.
Alderman Noel Williams (Alliance), a former RAF Wing Commander and a councillor in the Knockagh area, said he was happy to support the request.
He said: “It will be good to see the parade unveiling a new Standard and indeed the Act of Remembrance.”
Council Chief Executive Anne Donaghy initially said the money would come out of the Council’s ‘Small Grants’ budget.
Sinn Fein Coast Road Councillor James McKeown said he didn’t “have a problem” with the UDR whenever they are “having their ceremony, etc, etc. I would have a problem Council granting them £1,000 without going through the appropriate application for funding and I will be voting against.”
Ms Donaghy then clarified that the money would be coming out of a ‘Civic Budget’.
Carrick DUP councillor Ald Billy Ashe MBE seconded Cllr Williams’ proposal.
He said: “I think that the £1,000 that we are talking about is a small price to pay for the safety of many, many, lives that the Ulster Defence Regiment protected people in our our of need.
“I would be delighted to see them getting that money.”
Cllr McKeown responded: “I understand what Cllr Ashe says but not everyone views the UDR as he does or the narrative that he is possibly trying to spin and that is the reason I would be against any money going direct from Council, it should go through some sort of funding stream.”
Cllr Ashe continued: “I’m not putting any spin on anything. This is fact. It is not my community trying to rewrite history, it wasn’t my community that started the terrorist campaign.
“But it was our community and men and women who served in the Ulster Defence Regiment who stood up to it.”
Larne Lough DUP representative, Ald Paul Reid, added: “You have to bear in mind these were brave men and women who worked by day and served our little province by night when there was madness going through this land.
“When murder, bomb and bullet were the order of the day they policed a divided people and I am proud to be associated with anyone who tried to make a difference and wore the uniform.
“They didn’t wear a uniform because they hated people, they wore a uniform because they wanted to make a difference.
“Thank God the peace we have today in Northern Ireland is down to people like those who served in the UDR, in the Greenfinches, in the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the RUC Reserves and all in Her Majesty’s armed forces and they paid a big price in Northern Ireland.”
Speaking after the meeting, Cllr McKeown said that when a request for funding of an event during Irish Language Week was brought to council, it was refused with the explanation that there were “funding streams” for such applications.
He indicated that all funding applications should follow the same procedure.
“The point I was trying to make is that we need to be seen as even-handed.”
The funding was granted after the Mayor, Cllr Maureen Morrow, asked if councillors were “all in agreement” and there were responses of “agreed”.
Two councillors said they were “against”.