Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein protests dismissed as council allows use of park for UVF memorial parade

By Rebecca Black

A major parade to mark 100 years since the Ulster Volunteer Force left for the battlefields of the First World War has been granted permission to use a council facility - despite opposition from Sinn Fein.

The re-enactment parade through Belfast, set to take place on May 9, has been organised by the Unionist Centenary Committee (UCC).

It plans to retrace the footsteps of members of the 36th (Ulster) Division in May 1915 in their farewell parade around the city before leaving for pre-war training.

The UCC had requested the use of Grove Playing Fields near the York Road in north Belfast as an assembly point for the parade.

The council's Parks and Leisure committee recommended at a meeting on February 24 to defer a decision on the request until its next meeting on March 12, and bring the UCC in front of the committee.

But at the meeting of the full council on Monday evening, DUP councillor Lee Reynolds proposed that permission in principle is granted for the use of Grove Playing Fields, subject to party consultations.

"I make this on a number of grounds," he told the council.

"Firstly this is not the Unionist Centenary Committee's first application.

"They have worked with the council on two previous occasions and have proven themselves to be reliable and to keep their word.

"Secondly, it would be hoped as this process of the centenaries progresses, that good faith and trust is developed. This is an organisation with a successful track record."

Mr Reynolds added that there had also been a deviation from the process that had previously been followed.

He said that individual parties who had issues with the proposal had gone directly to the organisers to discuss them, rather than bring them before the committee.

Committee chair Mary Ellen Campbell of Sinn Fein opposed Mr Reynolds' move.

She said that for her party, there was "just not enough information".

"We would welcome the organisers addressing the committee and giving us that detail," she told the council.

"In the past, we have been supportive of other similar events so we look forward to engaging with the Unionist Centenaries Committee and getting clarification on some issues we have so we can make an informed decision."

The council voted by 35 votes to 16 to grant permission in principle to use the playing fields, as Mr Reynolds had proposed.

Only Sinn Fein voted against.

The UCC organised a massive parade through Belfast in 2012 to mark 100 years since the signing of the Ulster Covenant.

The May 9 event is intended to re-enact the parade of the 36th (Ulster) Division when some 17,000 soldiers marched through Belfast and past City Hall before leaving these shores for training in England.

The UCC has also signalled its intent to look to mark the centenary of when the 10th Irish Division landed in Gallipoli in August 1915.

Formed in 1914, the Ulster Division moved to Seaford on the Sussex coast of England in July 1915.

Lord Kitchener inspected the Division there on July 27, 1915, and later remarked to Carson, "your Division of Ulstermen is the finest I have yet seen". Another inspection took place, by King George V, on September 30.

The Division would later suffer devastating losses at the Battle of the Somme in France in 1916. Nine members of the 36th Division were awarded the Victoria Cross.

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