Mid and East Antrim is to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland with commemorative stones to be placed in the borough’s towns, it was agreed at a council meeting on Monday evening.
Proposing the motion, Bannside TUV CouncillorTimothy Gaston described the decision not to erect a Northern Ireland shaped stone at Stormont vetoed by Sinn Fein as “shameful”.
Cllr Gaston described the placing of a centenary stone in each of the borough’s three main towns – Larne, Carrickfergus and Ballymena and a commemorative paving stone in each of Mid and East Antrim’s villages as a “fabulous way of visibly marking the milestone across the borough”.
Seconding the motion, party colleague Braid Councillor Christopher Jamison said that the centenary would “mark triumph of democracy over terrorism”.
He stated that it would also “remember those who paid the supreme sacrifice” and it would be an opportunity for Mid and East Antrim to “right the wrong” of what he described as Sinn Fein’s “bigotry” and “send a message to Stormont”.
Carrickfergus DUP Councillor Cheryl Johnston said she “did not see what is offensive about a stone shape of Northern Ireland”.
She added that the descision at Stormont showed “no respect for those in Northern Ireland who want to celebrate and mark the birth of our country”.
As a result, she indicated that she felt her identity was not respected and this was a feeling that has been conveyed by her constituents.
She went on to say that providing commemorative stones throughout the borough would be a “positive and lasting legacy”.
Larne Lough Alliance Councillor Danny Donnelly stated: “Not everybody in Northern Ireland or Mid and East Antrim will see the centenary as something worth celebrating but clearly some will. One hundred years is a significant period of time and worthy of marking.”
He went on to say that other commemorations will include a fireworks display in Ballymena, light show in Carrickfergus and a “big picnic” in Larne and smaller events planned throughout the year.
“It is a legacy to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland in our main towns and I like the aspect of involving the villages as well.”
He indicated that Alliance was “in favour” of the motion.
Ballymena SDLP Councillor Eugene Reid commented: “There are many within the borough of Mid and East Antrim who would not be using the word celebrate as regards the 100 year existence of Northern Ireland.
“I have no problem with people who want to recognise that. Tolerance and respect is what I would want to give anyone who wants to put forward this proposal.
“It would be useful to acknowledge that there is history here of Nationalist people who in 1921 felt separated from the rest of their colleagues in the island of Ireland. I would like that to be acknowledged and be part of the ongoing commemoration.”
Knockagh Ulster Unionist Councillor Andrew Wilson noted: “The key here is the phrase mutual respect.”
He noted that Stormont planted a tree to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the GAA.
Coast Road Sinn Fein Councillor James McKeown stated: “As you would expect, I will not be supporting the motion. I believe that council should following the example set by Stomont and I think it goes back to if there are groups within the community in the borough who want paving stones, they should go through the appropriate channels within the council to apply for funding.”
Cllr Gaston went on to say that the centenary stones would complement the rest of the celebrations that are being planned.
He paid tribute to Alliance and SDLP for their support, adding that it was “hardly a surprise” that Cllr McKeown would not support the motion that was approved by 29 votes in favour with Cllr McKeown and party colleague Councillor Ian Friary voting against and abstention from SDLP Cllr Reid.