Belfast Telegraph

Bible show U-turn: Everyone was content it was back on but no one was clear how it happened

BY MALACHI O'DOHERTY

Newtownabbey Council has never been so much at the heart of media interest, but last night the television satellite vans were in the car park and the reception area was home to milling and frustrated journalists who couldn't get in to the chamber.

I suggested to the public relations officer Paula Reddick that she will have to expand the facilities as currently only 25 places are available for Press and the public.

"Is it not a bit of an embarrassment to have to shut the Press out when they are discussing censorship?"

Her face darkens; she doesn't enjoy the joke. The last time there was a clamour for places in the gallery on this scale, she says, was when dogs orders were being discussed last year.

A chap who is a regular at these meetings says he thinks it will pass quickly.

He describes Fraser Agnew, the mayor, as "pretty sharp". "I have seen them come out of here at twenty to eight," he says.

Ten minutes after the start of the meeting, that is.

But the building is lovely and spacious and adjoins the theatre at which the controversial play was to be staged.

Paula confirms that members of the cast were actually rehearsing there yesterday, as part of the agreement the theatre has with the Reduced Shakespeare Company.

They would have been striding the stage, being just as offensive to God as they usually are, and it seemed there was no barrier to them doing that, nor lightning bolts in reply.

Which establishes really the nature of the ban; it wasn't against the offending play, just against people being allowed to pay to see it.

Any hopes that a few people dressed as Old Testament prophets might be picketing the meeting were unfulfilled.

Nor were there campaigners against the play. It would have been an ordinary bleak and quiet night in Newtownabbey but for the media interest and the storm of debate that has flared around the decision of the Artistic Board to ban this one play and to interpret its political responsibility as including the need to protect Christianity against insult.

The media and others sat listlessly outside the chamber waiting, wondering what might have been implied by a timorous outbreak of handclapping behind the door.

I took a nosey through the glass panel and drew more interest than was appropriate from those inside.

The mayor turned and eyed me sternly.

I was disrupting the solemn implementation of democracy.

I went back to my seat.

Inside the DUP was disowning the ban by the Artistic Board and councillors were focused on undoing the damage of the bad publicity.

Ulster Unionist councillor John Scott, a man who often talks sense, was telling the councillors that the decision had been a disaster for the council.

The news filtered out through tweeting journalists that the Artistic Board had reversed its decision -- but there was no getting home for tea yet.

"Farce", said a text from inside.

And you could see the point.

The debate was complicated. The Artistic Board reversed its decision.

The Alliance Party said it was getting the blame for the decision to ban the play.

Councillor Cosgrove proposed that the Artistic Board was the competent body to decide these things and that brought a stalemate 11-11, which makes you wonder what power the board is left with.

The DUP, which had seemed to be the dark force moving against freedom of expression, had no objection to the play and everyone seemed content that the play was back on while no one was entirely clear how that had happened.

Outside the chamber in the end, a man who didn't want to give his name said: "God is sovereign and there is no certainty this play will go ahead."

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