Sinn Fein and DUP councillors do battle over plans to mark VJ Day

Tempers have flared over Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council plans to host a VJ Day event.

Tuesday, 28th July 2020, 4:47 pm
Photo by Aaron McCracken

On August 15, 1945, Japan announced its surrender in WW2, effectively bringing the global conflict to an end.

A proposal to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Japan’s surrender in WWII on August 15 1945, was put forward by DUP Councillor Mark Baxter who said money set aside for VE day celebrations that were cancelled could be used for an outdoor event.

Sinn Fein group leader, Councillor Liam Mackle reminded Councillor Baxter that council officers had already phoned members to discuss marking the event via online means.

“I don’t see what could possibly be done and I think this is a back door route to get money for a pet project. It is not something that we can support. In the time frame it makes no sense and is nothing but a publicity stunt,” said Cllr Mackle.

These claims were rejected by UUP councillor Louise McKinstry who said: “VJ Day is not a pet project for the DUP or the people I represent.

Council’s Chief Executive, Roger Wilson, said: “I would be of the view this is a matter members can decide on this evening.”

Alderman Jim Speers then implored the chamber to consider the issue in its wider context. “I would appreciate if members did not see this as a controversial issue. It was not a sectarian thing by any stretch,” said Alderman Speers.

SDLP group leader Thomas O’Hanlon said his concern was the holding of a public event and the the idea that a local authority would be seen to encourage a public gathering.

Sinn Fein councillor Catherine Nelson said she could not recall the council celebrating VJ day previously.

“This is a political stunt and I would ask that any such event is risk assessed and equality screened,” said Cllr Catherine Nelson. “If we are to hold this event we would certainly not be seen as a leading light asking people to stay safe.”

DUP group whip, Councillor Darryn Causby said he was disappointed by the accusations and tone taken by some in the chamber.

“It is disingenuous and disrespectful from the party that claims equality, respect and integrity for all, unless, it would seem, it is not on their terms,” said Cllr Causby.

“It is hard to hear their concerns about COVID regulations given just a few weeks ago at Bobby Storey’s funeral a number of their leadership appeared to flout those rules then so I will take no lectures from that party.”

He also expressed his disappointment in the Chief Executive’s approach to the proposal.

“It would seem the Chief Executive does not want to take this matter under scheme of delegation when the rules make it very clear he can,” said Cllr Causby.

Councillor Baxter then turned his attention to the Lord Mayor.

“I am also disappointed in you Lord Mayor. You are there as Lord Mayor for everyone not just for the nationalist community. You should hang your head in shame.”

Alliance Party councillor Eoin Tennyson said as long as regulations are adhered to he was of the belief council would be able to put an event together.

When some technical issues were resolved and voting was concluded the proposal was passed.

In total, 25 members voted for the proposal with the DUP, UUP Alliance Party and Cllr Paul Berry in support of the proposal. The five SDLP members present abstained  and the nine Sinn Fein members present voted against the proposal.