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Sinn Fein tried to block Charles and Camilla trip to Heaney HomePlace

By Cate McCurry

Sinn Fein councillors have been accused of undermining Prince Charles' recent trip to Northern Ireland after they attempted to block his visit to a centre dedicated to Seamus Heaney.

It is understood the party's representatives tried to thwart a Mid Ulster Council proposal to host a reception for Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall while they were on a two-day trip to Northern Ireland.

The royal couple began their visit at Bellaghy's Seamus Heaney HomePlace, which was created in his memory.

Council officials wanted to use the occasion to help boost publicity for the £4.2m arts and literary centre, which opened in September last year.

During a closed debate at a meeting last month, Anthony Tohill, the council's chief executive, told members of his intention to host a formal reception for two dignitaries. However, he explained that, for security reasons, he could not disclose their identity.

This prompted Sinn Fein to oppose the proposal, with one party councillor questioning why a formal reception would be put in place for the unknown visitors. They were overruled by unionist members and the SDLP who voted in favour of the event.

A Mid Ulster unionist councillor, who does not wish to be named, accused Sinn Fein of trying to block a positive move.

"Anthony Tohill went to the committee to explain the circumstances and said he was not at liberty to say who was coming because of security reasons," the source explained.

"The CE (chief executive) knew what he wanted to do and the process to do it, saying that he wanted to do something positive that will benefit the area. This was a key visit and a high-profile visit.

"The Heaney centre is a new development in the Mid Ulster area which the council has been promoting and this was going to be a win for everyone and the CE wanted to build on that.

"There was a lack of trust in our CE from Sinn Fein. I had no reason to disbelieve what he was telling us and that it was in our best interest as a group leader.

"There was a clear and unambiguous display of distrust in the CE that he could not be trusted to do what was for the benefit of the whole council."

During his visit, the Prince addressed a packed conference hall at the Seamus Heaney HomePlace and spoke of how the "varied histories, voices, and traditions" could create "all the greater harmony" when brought together.

While no Sinn Fein representatives officially greeted the royal couple, it is understood the party's Sean McPeake was in the audience.

The unnamed unionist councillor continued: "There was a great deal of undermining by Sinn Fein.

"They are abusing the mandate. They are saying it's their way or no way and they talk about reaching out to other communities, but I don't see that happening."

But a Sinn Fein spokesman defended their objections. "An application was made for a civic reception of an unspecified nature," he explained.

"This was highly unusual and at odds with normal council practices.

"Sinn Fein voted against this as there was no indication of who the dignitary would be or what the cost would be to the public purse.

"At the time, Sinn Fein was not aware who the visit was from. There was no attempt to block a royal visit by Sinn Fein.

"In fact, a Sinn Fein representative attended the visit at the Seamus Heaney centre."

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