Thursday, 2 December 2010

Not in my name…….

Last night I ventured down to Belfast City Hall for the monthly Council meeting. The Sinn Féin Team pre-meeting starts well in advance of the Council meeting itself. There, Councillors and party support staff go through the minutes, motions and issues coming before the Council that night.

Once completed and after a bite to eat our Council team made their way into the Chamber and the rest of us upstairs and into the public gallery.

Last night saw relatives of those people murdered by the British Army during the Ballymurphy Massacre gathered in the gallery also. They were seeking permission from the Council to host the exhibition telling the story of the Massacre and subsequently their loss and the impact on their lives, to be displayed for a period in their City Hall.

A modest and very human request.

Briege Voyle, whose mother was murdered by the British Army during the Massacre, made a very heartfelt appeal to the Council to allow the use of the City Hall for their story to be told. She was joined by Alan McBride, who lost his wife in the Shankill Bomb. Alan also appealed to the Council to allow the space to be used for the families exhibition which in itself consists of 12 boards, each one telling the story of those eleven people gunned down by the British Parachute Regiment and a twelfth giving information on the Massacre itself.

Following the presentation from Briege and Alan it was clear that ‘good old fashioned’ City Hall bigotry was about to kick into gear.

That bigotry wasn’t as overt as it has been historically and strangely on this occasion it wasn’t the young DUP firebrands who got up to stall a decision on this matter but the so-called ‘middle of the road’ Alliance Party.

In fact, it was my own Councillor, Máire Hendron, who took to her feet seeking a deferral on a decision, citing ‘good relations’ and that the matter be brought back to committee.

I can say without fear of contradiction that when she took to her feet to delay this most basic of requests she certainly wasn’t representing the community in the Short Strand, an area that she allegedly represents and one which knows all to well the brutality of the British Army.

A number of weeks ago the Alliance Party issued a somewhat irrational statement claiming that the new Sinn Féin Councillors co-opted into City Hall would give them;

“serious concerns that the genuine progress made at Belfast City Council in the last number of years could be put in jeopardy by this strategy, as there has been a significant amount of consensus in recent times. I sincerely hope the stability that we have had at the Council is not affected by this move."

They have some cheek given their shameful actions last night.

I spoke with some of the families after this heartbreaking decision was passed. The Families had met with the Alliance Party beforehand and at no point did they inform them that they would seek a deferral. The Alliance came out of the Chamber to tell the families that Unionist Councillors had approached them before the Council meeting expressing concern about the exhibition.

Not only does this highlight the sheer cowardice of the Alliance party to stand by victims of the British Army but it also highlights a sheer unwillingness on their part to stand up to their fellow Unionist parties at City Hall.

Lets be honest, just because the Unionist Councillors asked for a deferral on this issue didn’t mean the Alliance had to give them one!

The families were clearly heartbroken, once again they are being denied the space to tell their story.

As always though they left City Hall as determined and as resolute as ever.

Ironically, despite the excuses from the Alliance and the allegations from Unionist Councillors, the families had sought a meeting with the other parties well in advance; but their requests were simply ignored.

What a pity that some of our civic leaders would be so willing to apply further hurt and trauma onto victims of the conflict.

Despite the inevitable heave-ho of City Hall politics I want to make it clear that the actions of the Councillor for Pottinger certainly weren’t done in my name.

The campaign for the Truth and Justice for the victims of the Ballymurphy/Springhill Massacre goes on.

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