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Race row Liam Neeson's Ballymena award not under threat

Hollywood star to keep top hometown honour

Hollywood actor Liam Neeson, is welcomed by well-wishers to Ballymena town centre, in Co Antrim, his home town, where he was granted Freedom of the Borough.
Hollywood actor Liam Neeson, is welcomed by well-wishers to Ballymena town centre, in Co Antrim, his home town, where he was granted Freedom of the Borough.

By Sarah Henderson

Race row movie star Liam Neeson's hometown honour is not under threat after his controversial "black b*****d" remark.

The actor was handed the Freedom of Ballymena six years ago in recognition of his career.

But despite the outcry over his comments- which saw the New York premiere of his new movie axed and a chat show appearance cancelled - his local council are standing by him.

Ballymena Borough Council was absorbed into Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, which has confirmed that there have been no demands to challenge the award.

A council spokesperson said: "Liam Neeson was conferred the Freedom of Ballymena in 2013 by Ballymena Borough Council. No requests for this to change have been made to Mid and East Antrim Borough Council."

In order for the situation to change, elected members would need to vote on it - and Sunday Life can reveal that as yet no motion has been tabled by any councillor.

Meanwhile, charity organisation UNICEF are refusing to comment on whether the race storm will have any impact on his position as a "Goodwill Ambassador".

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A spokeswoman said: "As it currently stands, we are not issuing a comment on this matter."

Schindler's List actor Liam has been involved with them since 1997 as their National Ambassador before his current role was announced in 2011.

At the time UNICEF declared it reflected "his long commitment to help save and improve the lives of children around the world affected by poverty, disease, abuse and neglect". Much of the work the charity does is in poor and war-torn countries in Africa that have mainly black populations, but there has been no reaction to his comments that he once wanted to kill a random black man after someone close to him was raped.

Liam has denied he is racist after his remarks, published by The Independent newspaper last Monday, sparked outrage.

He said: "She handled the situation of the rape in the most extraordinary way. But my immediate reaction was... I asked, did she know who it was? No. What colour were they? She said it was a black person.

"I went up and down areas with a cosh, hoping I'd be approached by somebody - I'm ashamed to say that - and I did it for maybe a week, hoping some (uses air quotes with fingers) 'black b*****d' would come out of a pub and have a go at me about something, you know? So that I could kill him.

"It was horrible, horrible, when I think back, that I did that... it's awful. But I did learn a lesson from it."

Since the backlash Liam has gone on TV in the States to defend himself, telling Good Morning America: "I'm not racist."

He said he would have acted the same had his friend's assailant been white, but admitted he had been "shocked" by his own response.

Liam received the Freedom of the Borough from Ballymena Borough Council at a ceremony in the town in January 2013 - the highest accolade the council can award a citizen.

Among those attending was former First Minister and DUP leader Ian Paisley, who was previously awarded the honour, and his son Ian Jr who is the MP for North Antrim.

But back in 2000, DUP councillors had objected to a proposal to bestow the same honour because of alleged derogatory remarks made about his experiences growing up in the town.

Liam had been quoted in an American magazine as saying that he felt "second class" as a Catholic growing up in the mainly Protestant town - but following the controversy he wrote a letter to the council.

It said: "I will always remain very proud of my upbringing in, and association with, the town and my country of birth, which I will continue to promote at every opportunity."

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