BANBRIDGE District Council does not have the power to grant ‘Freedom of the Borough’ on the Royal Irish Regiment, a council spokesperson said this week.
The council was responding to remarks made by Glenn Barr, a close friend of Lance Corporal Stephen McKee, who was killed in Afghanistan two weeks ago when his vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb in Helmand province.
In a report published in the Banbridge Leader last week, Mr Barr said he had started a campaign to have the freedom of Banbridge District bestowed on the Royal Irish Regiment, in which Mr McKee had been serving as Lance Corporal.
However, Banbridge District Council chairman, Jim McElroy has clarified that the council does not have the power to grant such an honour.
Mr McElroy said that while he would “dearly love” the council to be in a position to bestow such an honour on the Royal Irish Regiment, this would not be possible.
Councillor McElroy went on to explain that the ‘Freedom of the Borough’ is something which only Borough Councils have the power to grant.
“Being a District Council and not a Borough, Banbridge District Council does not have this power,” the council spokesperson said in a statement issued this week.
It continued, “The soldiers of the Royal Irish Regiment are to be commended for doing a fantastic job, often in harrowing and dangerous circumstances, but, unfortunately, it is not possible for Banbridge District Council to honour them in this way.”
Glen Barr, who knew Mr McKee since his childhood days and described him as “a great soldier and a leader of men” had been determined to have the ‘freedom’ honour bestowed upon his friend’s regiment.
“I am disappointed to hear now that this is not possible, but I think there are plenty of other ways the local council could play its part in honouring the Royal Irish Regiment,” said Mr Barr. “We could organise a home-coming parade in Banbridge or a council function. I will be suggesting these and other ideas to the council in due course.”
Last week, Mr Barr said his childhood friend had taken to soldiering “like a duck to water” and he had been proud to have served in “one of the best regiments in the army”.
Lance Corporal McKee’s body was repatriated at a special service at Wootton Bassett on Saint Patrick’s Day last Wednesday and plans are currently being finalised for a funeral service and burial in Banbridge.