Belfast Telegraph

Accusations fly as council row erupts over freedom honour for RAF

By Rebecca Black

A unionist has voiced disappointment after nationalists on Causeway Coast and Glens Council opposed a motion to award the Freedom of the Borough to the RAF.

The council voted on Wednesday night to honour the organisation in its centenary year.

It's planned to bestow the award on the RAF around the time of the annual air show in Portrush in September, at which the Red Arrows usually perform.

The area has historic links with the RAF, which used to have a base at Ballykelly, along with a number of airfields, and played a key role during the Second World War as part of Coastal Command in the fight against Nazi U-boats in the Atlantic.

The motion recognises the RAF's 100 years of service, and acknowledges the air and ground defence roles it continues to provide.

But the decision was not unanimous.

Sinn Fein, the SDLP and independent republican councillor Padraig McShane voted against it.

Mr McShane said the proposal by the DUP's James McCorkell, and seconded by his party colleague George Duddy, was "geared solely towards showing the large minority nationalist and republican residents of the borough who is boss".

Mr McCorkell voiced his disgust at the claim, and expressed disappointment at the SDLP's decision to vote no.

The motion was passed by 17 to 13.

Mr McCorkell said he was also disappointed the vote had been so close, and that it had been split down party political lines.

"This Freedom of the Borough motion was exceptional, it is the 100th anniversary of the RAF," he said.

"It will be part of the air show, and if anyone looks into the history of the RAF, especially here in Limavady, from Roe Valley right the way up to Lisahalley, it is exceptional.

"The claim was made that the whole motion was a unionist view.

"But my basis in bringing the notice of motion in the first place was because there are that many people who came to work in this area, especially through Ballykelly, from England and Canada, and ended up settling here.

"The RAF is intertwined in this community.

"I was expecting Mr McShane to oppose it, and I was expecting Sinn Fein to oppose it, but I was disappointed the SDLP voted against it.

"They spoke about how they couldn't support it on the basis of the expense of the event.

"But that is why we were planning to have it during the air show, when the RAF will be here.

"But they objected to it, so they can explain why."

SDLP group leader on the council Roisin Loftus said its opposition was on purely financial grounds as the awarding of the honour typically cost around £30,000.

"We're not opposed to Freedom of the Borough, we've supported others like the Salvation Army, St Vincent De Paul and Mervyn White (race director of the North West 200)," she explained.

"But it got to the stage where we were getting one of these requests every month and we had to draw a line. They weren't budgeted for and the bottom line was that we couldn't continue to spend ratepayers' money.

"We also feel that because there's been so many requests, the relevance of the Freedom of the Borough has been devalued."

Belfast Telegraph

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