MEA Council equality discussion leads to unionist walk-out

Cllr Declan O'Loan
Cllr Declan O'Loan

A discussion on equality issues at MEA borough council resulted in a Unionist walk-out after an SDLP councillor criticised UDR memorial plans.

Councillor Declan O’Loan made the remarks during a heated debate on memorials, street naming and numbering and flags and emblems at The Braid on September 7.

The council had been considering recommendations from its Equality Working Group, which was functioning under the guidance of equality expert Dr J Kremer.

The working group had forwarded four proposals: that the Chief Executive carry out a full review of flags flown and emblems displayed across Mid and East Antrim; that Council permit the erection of a UDR memorial stone at the War Memorial park in Ballymena; the erection of a memorial for people who died in conflicts in Kells and Connor; and that the Chief Executive should research how the council could fulfill its requirements on street names, examining the policies of other councils to develop a draft policy and procedure.

UUP Councillor Lindsay Millar proposed that council accept the recommendations, and was seconded by DUP Councillor Cheryl Johnston.

However, Cllr O’Loan read out a pre-prepared speech objecting to the proposed UDR memorial, which he said would “damage good relations in the Borough.”

He stated that the proposal was “obviously divisive” and that an Equality Impact Assessment was “necessary.”

“For the Council to agree to this proposal is associating itself with something that it should not. It will show itself to be partisan and will lose the confidence of the Catholic and nationalist population,” he said.

During Cllr O’Loan’s speech, Cllr Beth Adger led a DUP walk-out, followed by Cllrs May Beattie, Beth Clyde and Reuben Glover.

After a recess, UUP Councillor Andrew Wilson commented: “Cllr O’Loan insulted all the Catholic members who served in the UDR, and I know plenty of them in the Larne area. His latest remarks have done nothing for community relations and relations in this chamber.

DUP Councillor Gregg McKeen said that he would be asking for an apology from Councillor O’Loan.

“This council has to pay its respects to the men and women of this area who serviced in the UDR and gave the ultimate sacrifice in many cases,” he said.

Councllor O’Loan’s proposal to pass all the recommendations except the erection of a UDR memorial was seconded by Cllr Hardy but was defeated by 26-4.

The substantive proposal to pass all four recommendations passed by 26-4.