Belfast Telegraph

Poppy ban wrong on every level

Editor's Viewpoint

The 11 new super councils which replace the existing 26 local authorities at the end of this month were designed to provide grown-up government at street level. They have even been given additional powers such as planning so that they can be more in touch with the communities they serve.

But it seems that some of the councils cannot quite grasp what their new-found responsibilities are supposed to entail. They are determined, it appears, to remain the local bear pits instead of being a force for tolerance and confidence-building.

The shadow Mid Ulster District Council is a glaring example of this attitude. Not content with the potentially divisive measure of putting Irish before English on the council logo, it has also decided to ban the sale of poppies on all council properties.

It is not enough to say that the decision also bans the sale of Easter lilies and is designed to reflect a move towards creating a neutral workplace. The real issue is why was the matter even considered when there are so many other pressing issues that a real grown-up local authority should address.

No matter how the poppy sale ban is dressed up it will still be seen as provocative by the unionist community. Just months after the UK-wide celebrations of the centenary of the start of World War One - the conflict most associated with the poppy - the same bitter battles are still being fought in Northern Ireland. Surely we should now have the maturity to accept that the poppy is a tribute to all those who gave their lives, irrespective of their nationality or religion, so that succeeding generations could live in freedom.

Mid Ulster is not alone in being fixated by inconsequential issues. North Down and Ards Council couldn't even agree on what it should be called. And Newry and Mourne council has bequeathed an unwelcome controversy to its successor in the naming of a children's play park after an IRA hunger striker.

Councillors, like all politicians, should not use their powers to create unnecessary rows. What hard-pressed ratepayers, who see their bills for council services rise practically every year, want from their councils are improved services and responsible decision-making.

There is no point in councillors complaining that they have little real authority - although that rings increasingly hollow given their new powers - if they continue to abuse what they already have.

Belfast Telegraph

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