Outrage as City Hall says
YES to the Royal Irish Regiment - NO to the St Pat's Day Carnival

A Civic dinner for Iraq soldiers but noT A PENNY FOR ST PAT’S CARNIVAL FUN

Belfast City Council are set to spend thousands of pounds on a civic dinner to honour British soldiers who have served in Iraq after recently denying funding to the St Patrick’s Day Carnival Committee.

Lord Mayor of Belfast Tom Ekin will play host to servicemen and women from Belfast who have served in Iraq at a gala event in City Hall on February 24.

It’s thought that around £10,000 of ratepayers’ money will be spent on the event to which up to 475 British soldiers, mostly RIR, will be invited.

Yet £30,000 of funding was denied to the St Patrick’s Day Carnival Committee last Friday. The funding was blocked by the DUP, UUP and Alliance Party.

Lord Mayor Ekin, a member of the Alliance Party, speaking to the Andersonstown News yesterday, said that the two issues had nothing to do with each other.

“The two events are completely unrelated and should not be linked,” said Lord Mayor Ekin.

“Belfast City Council does fund St Patrick’s Day events such as the event at the Waterfront Hall and funding for individual groups.

“In relation to the money for the St Patrick’s Carnival, I don’t think that the organisers have been clear on what they would use the funding for,” he added.

A spokesman for Belfast City Council said, “The Lord Mayor is hosting a civic event for the servicemen and women who served during the recent Iraq conflict. We won’t know the final costs until the final numbers are known and a menu is decided on.

“The invites have just been issued and we won’t know the costs until nearer the time,” he added.

Local Sinn Féin Councillor Michael Browne said that the decision to host the dinner is tactless.

“Many people will find a celebration of the contribution of servicemen and women to life in Iraq grossly insensitive,” said Councillor Browne. “There are any number of reasons why Belfast ratepayers will not want to be associated with an event of this nature.

“Prior to the United States and British military invasion of Iraq many thousands of Belfast people demonstrated their opposition to a second Gulf War.

“As many as 18,000 Iraqi civilians have died since the invasion of their country.

“The non-Iraqi civilian dead added to the numbers of military dead bring the total number of fatalities to around and about 20,000 people.

“The cost of war in terms of human life and the devastating impact of the war on Iraqi citizens are the issues that must be kept in focus,” he added.

Councillor Browne said that he believed many people in Belfast would be appalled that such a dinner would be hosted at the City Hall.

Lord Mayor Ekin said that the decision to host the dinner was taken in May 2003.

“This dinner is not being held to celebrate death or carnage and is being held to mark that people went to serve in Iraq.

“This dinner is being held to show that we in the city welcome them back and that we as a city support their families.”

West Belfast woman Colette McCann Dornan, who was arrested following a huge anti-war protest held at the City Hall on April 8 2003, said that the decision to host the dinner was “absurd”. The local woman was charged with disorderly behaviour and resisting arrest following the protest.

Following a lengthy court case the 56-year-old was bound over to keep the peace in August 2004.

“It is a disgrace that a dinner to honour soldiers who served in Iraq would take place,” said Colette.

“This was an illegal war during which innocent men, women and children were killed for oil and during which prisoners were abused.

“I am totally and utterly disgusted that such a thing would take place considering the amount of innocent people that have been killed in Iraq,” she added.

Journalist:: Roisin McManus

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