Five councillors to travel to France for Somme centenary events

Soldiers of the Royal Irish Rifiles pictured during the Battle of the Somme in July 1916.
Soldiers of the Royal Irish Rifiles pictured during the Battle of the Somme in July 1916.

Antrim and Newtownabbey Council is to send five elected members to France for this summer’s Battle of the Somme centenary commemorations.

The local authority has been invited to take part in The Somme Association’s 2016 tour, which will mark the 100th anniversary of the bloody First World War battle which claimed the lives of thousands of men from across Ireland.

The commemoration tour will include a visit to the Ulster Memorial Tower for a ‘Beat the Retreat’ musical event and reception on July 2.

At their monthly meeting on Monday night (January 25), councillors were asked to respond to The Somme Association’s invite.

DUP Cllr Phillip Brett proposed that two Ulster Unionist Party representatives (including the 2016/17 Mayor), one SDLP member (likely to be the 2016/17 Deputy Mayor), and two DUP representatives should attend the Somme centenary commemoration tour.

“I think it is appropriate for this council to be represented at the Somme on July 1,” he said, adding that the council should avail of the five positions offered for the trip.

His proposal was seconded by Cllr Mervyn Rea.

“This will be an occasion that people will never witness again,” Cllr Rea commented.

TUV Cllr David Hollis referred to the invitation received by the council, which he said called for representation from each of the political parties.

“I think it is wrong what has been put forward,” he said.

Similar sentiments were shared by Cllr Michael Goodman, who said it was “a missed opportunity” for a cross-party approach.

“This is a very narrow, self-serving approach,” the Sinn Fein man commented.

“We are back to the position of playing unionist games. I have to say I’m very, very disappointed,” he added.

The matter went to a vote, with 26 members in support of Cllr Brett’s proposal, three voting against and five abstentions.

Cllr Hollis then asked if a letter could be sent to The Somme Association explaining that each party will not be represented, with Cllr Goodman adding: “And the reason for it.”

The council has still to make a final decision on accommodation for the trip, with options ranging in price from £730 per person (2* hotel) to £900 per person (3* hotel).