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Councillors fall out over letter of condolence on Orlando gun massacre

By Deborah McAleese

Published 17/06/2016

Crowds gather at Belfast City Hall to remember those who died in the Orlando massacre
Crowds gather at Belfast City Hall to remember those who died in the Orlando massacre
Crowds gather at Belfast City Hall to remember those who died in the Orlando massacre
William, Duke of Cambridge looks on as Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, signs a book of condolence at the US Embassy in London yesterday morning
Angel Colon, a victim of the Pulse nightclub shooting

A row erupted after members of a council were accused of being reluctant to pen a letter of condolence for the victims of the Orlando massacre.

Fermanagh and Omagh District Council was asked to write to the US Consulate to express its sympathies over the mass shooting in a gay nightclub.

The argument started after several councillors said the letter should not be written until guidance was taken on the circumstances in which expressions of sympathy should be made.

After deferring the decision for 24 hours, the council eventually agreed to send the letter to the US Consulate on the basis that a protocol was drawn up to deal with future requests.

Independent councillor Josephine Deehan, who had requested a letter of condolence be sent, said she was "dismayed at the reluctance of some councillors to send this letter". "A number of members said, 'We can't just be writing letters willy-nilly'," she explained. "I felt some responses were very insensitive.

"I am grateful that the letter is now going to be sent, but I am puzzled and very upset that a simple suggestion to send a letter of condolence could become so controversial."

Ms Deehan added she was also unhappy with the decision to draw up a protocol for sending letters of condolence.

"I don't want to subscribe to some hierarchy of atrocity," she said. "We have suffered from acts of atrocity right here in Omagh and, of course, right across Northern Ireland.

"I just wanted the people of Orlando to know that we were thinking of them.

"Sometimes, you have to exercise good judgment and assess each situation as it arises.

"It is crazy that red tape is going to get in the way of common humanity."

UUP councillor Victor Warrington said that the Orlando massacre, which saw 49 people shot dead at the gay nightclub, was a tragedy, but that "tragedies happened every day".

He insisted his comments were not insensitive and that he was merely pointing out that the council did not send out letters of condolence to "every tragedy in the world".

"I wasn't opposed to a letter being sent," he said. "I was just suggesting that council protocol be checked because there are tragedies every day of the week. I was seeking clarification."

DUP councillor Raymond Farrell told the Impartial Reporter newspaper: "Where do we draw the line with this? We are hearing of massacres, of mass murders taking place in different places around the world. Do we go down the route of writing to everybody who has suffered?"

In a statement, the council said that widespread sympathy was expressed for the people of Orlando during the discussion on the matter.

In November, the council sent a letter of condolence to France following the Paris terror attacks without debate.

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