Unionists have slammed an unofficial Easter Rising memorial erected by nationalists in Carnlough as “divisive” and “provocative”.
The permanent concrete structure was unveiled, along with a temporary flag pole bearing the tricolour at Hurry Head on Saturday.
During the event, attended by sitting Sinn Fein MLA Oliver McMullan and Councillor James McKeown, the flags of the four provinces of Ireland were processed for 50 metres from the gate to the site, after which the proclamation of the Irish Republic was read out.
Cllr McKeown revealed that a decision was taken to bypass council planning procedures after a formal commemoration event for the Easter Rising was ruled out by members.
“Mid and East Antrim Borough Council has been going a year and I would not be confident at all of nationalists taking anything to that council and expecting a positive outcome,” he told the Times.
“The centenary of the Easter Rising was probably the most historic event to take place in Ireland and it was time to mark it. The monument is permanent, but the flag pole flying the tricolour will be put up and down at different times of the year such as the anniversary of the Easter Rising and August 15. We plan for the flag to be up for a couple of days at a time, three at most.”
It’s 2016 and nationalists should be able to mark history that is important to them as equally as unionists.Cllr James McKeown
Cllr McKeown said that there had been “no paramilitary involvement” in the erection of the monument.
“There is nothing that would link the monument with paramilitarism. You would have to really stretch your imagination to find anything offensive about it,” he claimed.
“For anyone who finds it divisive, I would ask them to drive around East Antrim and look at the other memorials and unionist paramilitary flags in Boyne Square, Craigyhill, Millbrook, Glynn and Magheramorne. It’s 2016 and nationalists should be able to mark history that is important to them as equally as unionists.”
Cllr McKeown accused the local council of a “lack of generosity” towards nationalist attempts to mark the Easter Rising centenary.
“I spoke to council Chief Executive Anne Donaghy and she was to take the issue of the monument to an equality group in council, but given the council’s response to marking the centenary and their lack of generosity, why would we take something to them just to be knocked back?” he asked.
“This year was a great opportunity for unionists on Mid and East Antrim Council to show a little bit of generosity towards the nationalist population and they squandered that. Even the suggestion to send some councillors and officers to Dublin on an educational tour for the Easter Rising was completely thrown out.”
Cllr McKeown, who sits on the council’s planning committee, said he did not fear the monument’s removal due to lack of planning permission.
“Larne Borough Council erected a big monument, the crown, without regard to planning or consultation,” he said. “If they removed the Carnlough monument they would have to remove all the unofficial monuments throughout the borough.”
UUP Alderman Maureen Morrow, a candidate in the Assembly election, condemned the Carnlough monument as an “election stunt”, adding: “I am amazed that they would go ahead and do something like this, especially as Cllr McKeown is on the equality and planning committees. It flaunts their obvious contempt and disrespect for council. It also has a negative effect on tourism and community relations.
“Many people from both sides of the community aren’t happy with this. This is nothing like the Jubilee Crown, which had applied for permission and been discussed in council.”
TUV councillor and Assembly candidate Ruth Wilson described the monument and flying of the tricolour as “divisive and sectarian”.
“This is provocative and will only seek to heighten tensions and damage community relations at this time,” she added.
“I think it is absolutely disgraceful, irresponsible and illegal for this display in our area and immediate action should be taken to redress this issue and remove this offensive display.”
DUP Alderman Gregg McKeen described the memorial as “illegal” and a “provocation to stir up some resentment in the area”.
He added: “It has no real significance to Mid and East Antrim or Carnlough, the Easter Rising happened in Dublin and that’s why council rejected the proposed trip to Dublin. As for other unofficial monuments, two wrongs don’t make a right. Council wasn’t asked if it approved of this monument or not, that’s just an excuse.
“It seems to me they just want to mark their territory in the Carnlough area. It is divisive and provocative, and if it had been a genuine and sincere desire to mark the Easter Rising they would have gone through the proper channels.”