POLICE may be asked to investigate content posted recently on Carnlough Sinn Fein councillor James McKeown’s facebook page.
Larne Borough Council has also asked the social networking site to remove a picture showing the Boyne tercentenary memorial window in the Mayor’s Parlour at Smiley Buildings, and a photograph of the Queen’s portrait which is displayed in the chamber when council business is being conducted there. A third picture, which portrayed one of Cllr McKeown’s council colleagues, and which had attracted adverse comment, was taken off the site on Monday night, soon after a stormy council meeting.
On Tuesday, Cllr McKeown told the Larne Times he was making “no comment” on the controversy, but at the council, faced with accusations that some of the facebook content was “offensive” and “provocative”, the Coast Road representative – who was co-opted on November 21 to replace Assemblyman Oliver McMullan – said he thought it was “a non-issue”.
By Wednesday, the picture of the Queen, which had been tagged “Really warm place 4 Republicans”, had been removed, as had the picture of the stained glass window, which depicts William of Orange in classic pose astride a white horse. A comment posted by another person regarding the window had read: “I have a lovely brick I have been saving for a while, it would look great in that windy”.
The Boyne window was commissioned by the council to mark the 300th anniversary in 1990.
In facebook’s activities and interests section, Cllr McKeown’s activities were listed as Provisional IRA North Antrim Brigade and Oglaigh Na hEireann. Links brought up Wikipedia entries relating to both groups. On Wednesday, the reference to the paramilitary organisations had been removed and Cllr McKeown’s interests were listed as family, politics, football and music.
The local authority resolved on Monday to seek legal advice on the content of the web page, which unionists claimed was in conflict with the Councillors’ Declaration which Cllr McKeown signed when he was co-opted. It states: “I will not by word or deed express support for or approval of — (a) any organisation that is for the time being a proscribed organisation specified in Schedule 2 to the (1978 c. 5.) Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978; or (b) acts of terrorism (that is to say, violence for political ends) connected with the affairs of Northern Ireland.”
The PSNI indicated on Tuesday afternoon that the matter “has been brought to the attention of local officers”, adding that “to date a formal complaint has yet to be to police”.
DUP councillor Gregg McKeen said: “This is not the way that we should be conducting business in Larne Council, but when the mayor (DUP councillor Bobby McKee) proposed that we seek legal advice on this, I seconded.
“Cllr McKeown said it was a ‘non-issue’, but we are wanting to move forward and work for all the people of Larne and it is not setting the right tone if even from the chamber things are being done to try and stir the pot and take us back to where we were 10 years ago.”
East Antrim Ulster Unionist MLA Roy Beggs said the references to the North Antrim IRA and Oglaigh Na hEireann were “clearly a matter for the PSNI to investigate”.
He added: “I will also be writing to the Minister for the Environment, who has responsibility for local government, as I believe a breach has been made to the Councillors’ Code of Conduct and the Declaration of Non Violence.”
Oliver McMullan said: “To me, this is a non-story, but it does raise the question of why shouldn’t somebody put a picture of the King Billy window on a web site? Is the council trying to hide it away or something?”
He added: “The mayor’s parlour should be a neutral space and a window that features King Billy is not neutral by any stretch of the imagination.”
Further reporting in this week’s Larne Times