Belfast Blitz memorial setback as UUP plans voted down at council
Plans to erect a permanent memorial to those who lost their lives in the Belfast Blitz have suffered a setback after Sinn Fein councillors - supported by the SDLP - voted against a UUP proposal.
The plan would see Cathedral Gardens near Royal Avenue as the location for the tribute on the 80th anniversary of the German air raids in 2021.
Yesterday, Belfast City Council's strategic policy and resources committee voted eight to seven against the plan, according to UUP councillor Jeff Dudgeon, who said the majority against were all Sinn Fein committee members.
They were supported by SDLP councillor Tim Attwood, while Alliance's Michael Long abstained from voting.
Mr Dudgeon believes Sinn Fein has taken the stance because of its long-running request for a memorial to historical republican figure Winifred Carney, a Belfast women's rights and trade unionist, to be sited within city hall grounds.
Carney - who later in life married an Orangeman - was the only woman present at the General Post Office in Dublin during the 1916 Easter Rising.
The proposal is part of an ongoing council review into the procedure of erecting memorials at city hall, which includes the Blitz memorial.
However, Mr Dudgeon said the UUP had put forward the proposal to locate the memorial at Cathedral Gardens in order to remove it from the review.
Mr Dudgeon - who stressed he will fight to reverse the committee's decision at the next full council meeting - described the rejection as "shameful" and "extremely disappointing".
"I believe there will be genuine shock and anger that this issue has been rejected.
"This was most emphatically not a unionist proposal," he stressed.
"The Nazi bombs did not discriminate between Protestants and Catholics and that is why I am so disappointed that there should be any opposition to this proposal."
Mr Dudgeon added: "It is totally wrong for Sinn Fein in particular to seek to tie this issue to memorials in the city hall grounds.
"Surely councillors and parties can find the generosity of spirit to vote to allow this Blitz memorial to proceed alone?"
Sinn Fein failed to respond to a request for comment.
But councillors Attwood and Long defended their positions on the matter, stressing that they and their respective parties recognise the importance of a Blitz memorial and were simply awaiting the outcome of the review early next year.
"There was an agreement by all parties, including the UUP, that the issue of the Belfast Blitz and memorials in city hall grounds would be dealt with in January 2019," said Mr Attwood.
"I am confident that all parties will reach an agreed position on these important matters."
Mr Long said he abstained due to the ongoing review process.
But he said Alliance would not be deterred in its full support for the Blitz memorial - adding that he hoped the proposal passes in January - and accused Councillor Dudgeon of "petty point scoring for no obvious reason".
"Councillor Dudgeon brought this matter forward this month when it will make no material difference to the timescales", said Mr Long.