Belfast Telegraph

Council faces legal action over Easter Rising memorial

By Victoria Leonard

A council could face legal action after unionists voted against further discussions on replacing an Easter Rising memorial in a coastal village.

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council's cross-party equality working group had recommended more talks on potentially submitting a revised proposal for the memorial in Carnlough, but this was rejected at a full council meeting on Monday night.

Sinn Fein councillor James McKeown, who sits on the working group, said he was "very angry but not surprised" that the proposal had been turned down at full council level.

He said the body which lodged the application, East Antrim Republican Research Group, were "waiting for legal advice" over how to proceed in light of the refusal.

"This council is a freezing cold house for nationalists, it's an iceberg," he added.

"This is a perfect example of unionist domination and a yearning to go back to what it was years ago.

"We shouldn't be surprised at this stunt by the DUP and TUV, but nationalist residents are far from happy.

"The feeling amongst the group is that they have been discriminated against.

"Across Mid and East Antrim borough there are flags, murals, memorials - there's a tank in Carrick and a crown in Larne. All they wanted to do was put in a small monument."

The Easter Rising memorial, which was erected on council land without planning permission in 2016, featured a tricolour and the inscription 1916-2016.

It was removed in the middle of the night by council contractors accompanied by the PSNI.

A consultation exercise was launched over its replacement.

It is understood that 563 residents were involved in the process, of which 177 responded.

Around 75% are believed to have supported some sort of replacement memorial, forming the basis of the equality working group's recommendations.

Councillor McKeown, who attended the unveiling of the original memorial, criticised the consultation process.

"The consultation exercise went out two days before Christmas last year and people had only two weeks to respond to this," he said.

"For a written response it was a high response rate."

However, DUP Alderman Gregg McKeen, who proposed that discussions on replacing the memorial be halted, claimed there was "no appetite" for a replacement memorial, and said the council was "not trying to be deliberately provocative" to nationalists.

He said: "This issue is only being used a s a political football by Sinn Fein to create tension in the area.

"The 177 responses within the consultation area, of which 75% were in favour, is a very, very low number. To go ahead with that wouldn't have taken us any further. I believe that there wasn't any appetite for a replacement monument.

"It would have been different if there had been a bigger response rate."

Mr McKeen refuted claims the council was "biased against the nationalist community".

He insisted: "There is no direct connection between Carnlough and the Easter Rising. The council have to do things based on facts and equality."

A spokesperson for Mid and East Antrim Council said a "consultation report will be released in due course".

They added that there are "provisions within the Local Government Act NI 2014" for councillors to challenge the decision.

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