The new Causeway International Airshow for 2022 proved to be a bone of contention yet again at the full meeting of Causeway Coast and Glens Council.
A proposal was brought forward by Sinn Fein Councillor Leanne Peacock calling for a report to be brought back to committee detailing the costings of the proposed air show, a move which left a number of unionist councillors frustrated.
At the September meeting of the Leisure and Development Committee, a date and new location for the International Air Show event was approved which will see the event take place on the weekend of September 10 and 11, with the flight path to be centred between the towns of Portstewart and Portrush.
However, Sinn Féin raised concerns over the lack of budget projections on the report presented to the committee, leading to a heated debate among councillors, before it was proposed a further report be brought.
Speaking at full council, Councillor Peacock said it was a ‘complete dereliction of duty’ to have agreed specific details without being provided with a single estimate.
The Ballymoney DEA councillor said: “Let’s not forget that this council has already spent thousands on consultancy fees even at this stage, a year before the event. It’s outrageous that members are not being presented with the basic details to make decisions – the cost, which is usually the starting point to organising any event.
“We cannot continue with a blank cheque approach to an expensive event that is being run by this council. I am a member of the Finance Committee and only too aware of the effort it took to bring us back from the brink of disaster over the past number of years.
“We must be prudent in our decision making and as a result I propose a report is brought back with proposed costings of this event which have been looked at by the Finance Director in line with the Finance Committee recommendation, that council reports are brought with affordability checks and a stamp of approval or disapproval by the finance team before proceeding.”
Before opening it up to the floor, the Mayor Councillor Richard Holmes pointed out that a report with costings was already due to come back to the committee.
Director of Leisure and Development, Richard Baker added: “Of course it will come within the affordability parameters set and not wishing to contradict Councillor Peacock, all we have done is set the foundation of the event – the date, the location and format for this event. .
“We haven’t got into specifics yet, that will be developed and worked through the project board set up for the International Air Show in 2022.”
DUP Councillor Aaron Callan spoke of the economic benefit the airshow would have, however, he first addressed Sinn Fein’s opposition to the event.
“From day dot, Sinn Féin have opposed the air show in any form at all,” he said. “It’s not based on finances, it’s based on ideological opposition to the fact that the RAF would be involved and other parts of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces would be involved in the airshow.
“They can dress it up whatever way they want in a pre-prepared statement, but the fact is that they opposed this not just on cost because if you look at the economic review that was done on this event which brings hundreds of thousands of people into the area which helps local businesses, bringing an economic impact to the area of £2.5m.
“There’s not many events in our calendar that bring that economic impact and the way that Councillor Peacock said about the financial mess we are in, it wasn’t because of decisions about holding events as she would well know being on the Finance Committee.
“These events draw visitors into the area, support businesses that pay the rates, help support the services we want to provide in this area and the airshow is a critical part of that infrastructure going forward.
“I’ve got to say the Director had outlined that this is the early stage, we needed to know the dates and the flightline so we can bring back the costs and there’s the other parts to look at like sponsorship and other parts we can bring in. If Sinn Féin were so concerned about it, they would have appointed someone to the working group, which they refused to do.”
Sinn Fein Councillor Cathal McLaughlin claimed it didn’t bring money to other parts of the borough like Dunloy, Cloughmills and Loughguile adding ‘one part seems to be more important than all other parts’ before PUP Councillor Russell Watton asked Sinn Fein to ‘say it how it is’.
He said: “They talk about wasting money but they are shoving the Irish Language Act down our throats every day of the week. Now that is the biggest waste of money.
“It’s Britain’s armed forces, our armed forces is the problem, it’s nothing to do with money, they just haven’t the guts to come out and admit it.
“Just say it for what it is – you never wanted it, you don’t want it in the future, you don’t want it at all and that’s just the anti-British element.”
Describing the airshow as a ‘massive economic boost’ to the area, DUP Alderman George Duddy added: “We are charged in this council through the events that we run to generate an economic boost for the businesses, no matter where they come from.
“There is a massive economic benefit to the area and if we don’t speculate we will never accumulate. Let’s get away from the party political stuff.”
Obviously frustrated Independent Councillor James McCorkell made his feelings very clear.
“To be honest some of the comments that have come from Sinn Fein members have been pathetic, absolutely pathetic,” he said. “Just say you don’t want it.
“Don’t come up with excuses and nonsense. We’ve held this airshow for numerous years before and the estimates are already there – just say you don’t want it.
“At least Dermot at the meeting said she wasn’t his Queen – fair enough. Call a spade a spade. I might not like it, but stop the nonsense Sinn Fein, for goodness sake.
“Just say you don’t want it. It’s intolerance, that’s what it is, complete intolerance from Sinn Fein.”