SDLP challenges DUP over Black Lives Matter decision at Antrim and Newtownabbey Council

The SDLP council group on Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council has said it is “appalled” by the decision of the DUP to prevent civic buildings being lit up in support of Black Lives Matter.

Friday, 6th November 2020, 3:53 pm

Instead civic buildings in Antrim and Newtownabbey were lit up red and green to highlight October as Black History Month after an amendment proposed by the DUP was passed at last month’s meeting of the borough council.

In a statement issued this week, SDLP council group leader Councillor Roisin Lynch said: “The inability of the DUP to send out a simple message of support for the Black Lives Matter movement is simply galling.

“It is very simple, you either support Black Lives Matter or you don’t. There is no in between.

“It is astonishing that they consider a movement committed to ending violence inflicted upon black communities as too political.

“Everything is politics and showing support to this movement through our local political sphere is as good a place as any place to start in tackling racism within our own communities.

“The DUP should really reflect on the reasons why they find themselves unable to support Black Lives Matter”.

Speaking at the meeting, DUP leader on council Glengormley Alderman Phillip Brett said the amendment to light up civic buildings in support of Black History Month would be “a much more inclusive event” for the council to mark.

“I think the original intent of the motion has somewhat changed given the evolving nature of the Black Lives Matter campaign, confirmation by the Electoral Commission, that Black Lives Matter is now registered as a political party and  is in the process of doing so shows that this organisation whilst started out with good intentions has become a political organisation.

“We also have concerns in relation to policies which they espouse such as defunding of our police service is something we as a party could not stand over.”

Seconding the amendment, Ulster Unionist Cllr Robert Foster said: “I think it is a much better amendment to the proposal gives everybody the chance to look and see how much black history has influenced society.”

The Deputy Mayor of Antrim and Newtownabbey, Glengormley SDLP Cllr Noreen McClelland, who proposed the original motion to mark Black Lives Matter, stated: “This is something I brought to the council back in June.

“I still believe that it is a viable option. I believe that racism is something that  we should be calling out and I am still of the opinion that lighting up our buildings and showing solidarity for black and ethnic groups is extremely important.”

Cllr McClelland noted there were 92 incidents of racist incidents in Antrim and Newtownabbey last year which she described as “totally unacceptable”.

“I believe we must work together to defeat racism, intolerance and discrimination. I still believe we should be lighting up our buildings for Black Lives Matter.”

Sinn Fein Glengormley Cllr Michael Goodman said he supported Cllr McClelland’s comments irrespective of whether or not Black Lives Matter is “declaring itself a political party”.

Dunsilly SDLP Cllr Ryan Wilson told the meeting that before lockdown he was accompanied to his local shop in Randalstown by a guest who was racially abused outside.

“Someone decided to take issue with the colour of their skin. I suggested that they report it to the police. Their response was that they were used to it,” he recalled.

“Racism is alive in our council in 2020” he continued.

The Mayor of Antrim and Newtownabbey, Cllr Jim Montgomery, said: “Did you say racism is alive in our council in 2020? We are the council.”

Cllr Wilson clarified that he meant “our borough”.

He went on to say: “Black History Month is a celebration of black people’s achievements in the UK but it is also an opportunity to reflect on inclusion and racial justice. Black Lives Matter is much broader and discusses systemic racism on a global scale.”

He urged the council to “reflect on what was agreed and not lose sight of such an important issue”.

Commenting after the amendment was passed, Macedon DUP Cllr Victor Robinson remarked that the aims of the British arm of BLM were to “abolish the police, smash capitalism and close all prisons.”

“I am glad the amendment happened,” he stated.

Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter.

Read a previous Black Live Matter-related story here

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