Belfast Telegraph

Proposal to give Bill Clinton freedom of Belfast 'gimmick and stunt': UUP's McGimpsey

By Mark Edwards

A proposal to give former US president Bill Clinton the freedom of Belfast was described as a “gimmick and a stunt”, according to an Ulster Unionist councillor.

The SDLP group at Belfast City Council has put forward a motion that would see Clinton and former US Senator George Mitchell receive the freedom of the city in recognition of the role they played in the peace proccess.

A special meeting of the city council will be held on Tuesday to discuss the motion.

However, the Ulster Unionists have said they will oppose the proposal and have criticised the SDLP for “politicising” the honour.

UUP councillor Chris McGimpsey, speaking on the BBC's Good Morning Ulster, said: “This has been a political jump by the SDLP and the procedure is all wrong now.

“We have pushed through extra council meetings, extra committee meetings, trying to get this through and the Ulster Unionists are unhappy.

“Whilst we accept the legacy of Bill Clinton and especially George Mitchell, what about John Hume and David Trimble who were the real heroes who pushed the thing through?

"I have been watching the news over the last couple of days and people are talking about ‘what about Tony Blair, what about Berty Ahern?' Even Monica McWilliams was mentioned last night.

"This has taken the whole concept of freedom of the city out of where it should be, which is recognising decades of work, and putting it on the political agenda - where it should never have been.”

The two American politicians are expected in Belfast for a series of events to mark the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement next month.

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Chris McGimpsey

Cllr McGimpsey also accused the SDLP of ignoring procedural rules in order to try and give the awards to Clinton and Mitchell before they arrive in Belfast.

He said: “We know the work that Clinton did, this is not to diminish this in anyway- this is a gimmick, a stunt. President Clinton is coming, lets nip in quickly, try to change all the procedures of the council and we will give him the freedom of the city.

"Kenneth Branagh is a classic example of the sort of person who gets the freedom of the city. A citizen of Belfast who has been ambassador for Belfast and who has had great achievement in his chosen endeavours in life.

"We are unhappy at the way this has been pushed forward and the way it has been handled.  It has been badly handled, badly organised, and frankly it is not what the freedom of the city is all about.”

SDLP councillor Tim Attwood said: "In the year of the 20th Anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, it is right that we recognise those who played significant roles in delivering the peace accord. Both Senator George Mitchell and President Bill Clinton played hugely important and significant roles that process.

"President Bill Clinton was and still is a constant on the road to peace, giving his unwavering commitment to achieving peace in Northern Ireland. Senator George Mitchell won admiration from across the political divide in Northern Ireland for the careful, patient way he chaired the talks that led to the Good Friday Agreement on April 10 1998.

"The SDLP are honoured to propose Senator George Mitchell and President Bill Clinton for the the freedom of Belfast for their efforts in supporting peace, not only in Belfast, but throughout the North."

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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