Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein block cartoonist sketching councillors - party accused of 'censorship'

The issue was raised at Monday night's council meeting.
The issue was raised at Monday night's council meeting.
Andrew Madden

By Andrew Madden

Sinn Fein has been accused of censorship for not supporting a request from an artist to sketch Belfast City Council in session.

Artist and political cartoonist Brian John Spencer had previously requested to sketch Monday night's council meeting back last month, however it was voted down in committee following a Sinn Fein proposal.

Mr Spencer has previously drawn political cartoons critical of Sinn Fein.

At Monday night's meeting, however, an amendment was tabled by Ulster Unionist councillor Jeffrey Dudgeon seeking to reverse the decision.

"This is to my mind, and I think most members here would agree, is a needless act of censorship on the part of those members who voted to deny the request," he said.

Councillor Dudgeon said there is a long tradition of artists painting parliaments and assemblies in session and if the "ban" was upheld by council it would breach the artist's freedom of expression rights.

Sinn Fein's council group leader Ciaran Beattie, however, said, regardless if the council gave the artist future permission to sketch the council chamber, he would not be given permission to draw Sinn Fein representatives.

"The artist involved has been involved in some controversial cartoons - namely about our party as well," he said.

"We will be opposing it and, whether we are successful or not, the cartoonist will not have permission to draw me or, I'm sure, any of my colleagues."

SDLP councillor Donal Lyons said Sinn Fein's stance on the issue was "absolute farce".

"I'm quite surprised that we're even having this conversation that, because somebody has painted a cartoon of a political party that they didn't like they are willing to censor him," he said.

"And to do so in such a way as 'we're not giving our support so it won't be happening' - I mean, it's absolute farce."

Sinn Fein's Arder Carson said that it was his democratic right to choose not to be painted.

"I have a right to choose what I want to do as well, so if you want to deny me my right in a democratic chamber and you vote for this, then I definitely won't be here - so you are censoring me."

Councillor Dudgeon's amendment to reverse the decision not allow Brian John Spencer to sketch the council was passed, with 34 votes in favour and 19 against.

Speaking following Monday's meeting, Councillor Lyons said if it had been a case of unionist parties blocking an artist they were nationalist, or right wing parties blocking a left wing artist, "there would rightly be an outcry".

"At best it’s thin skinned but more worryingly is the message they’re clearly sending to the creative community, that if an artist’s personal beliefs don’t fit, Sinn Fein will use their political positions to try and block them," he added.

"The council rightly takes a strong role in enabling and funding the cities artists and creative industries. Many of the arts and cultural events across the city create glimpses of the shared future in the here and now.

"But it’s ironic that at the same meeting where Sinn Fein were pre-empting any application process for the controversial bonfire funding by naming groups set to get the money before any process had even opened, they have also set themselves against the pluralism which is fundamental to equality, integrity and respect."

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