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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Weir (Local Democracy Reporter)

ANBCouncil back motion to ensure veterans “get the send-off they deserve”

Irish Regiment piper

Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council has backed a motion to ensure veterans and those who have provided a front line service in the community “get the send-off they deserve” on their death.

The motion was approved by 32 votes in favour at a meeting of the council at Mossley Mill recently. There were four abstentions from Sinn Fein.

The motion proposed by Deputy Mayor Antrim Ulster Unionist Councillor Leah Smyth said:

“This council recognises that, each year, many front line service personnel pass away with little or no family support and/or little knowledge of the support that exists.

“We aim to ensure that those who provided a vital service, or duty to their country, get the send-off that they deserve.

“We propose that council officers link in with the Veterans’ Commissioner, our Veterans’ Champion and local associations to ensure those individuals are aware of support available and can get the send-off they deserve when they pass away.”

Speaking at the meeting, Cllr Smyth recalled the death last October of ex-serviceman Jackie Morris who was born in Scotland and had no known family in Northern Ireland. He had served in the UDR.

Following an appeal on social media by the Royal British Legion, she joined  hundreds of mourners who had been unknown to him to attend his funeral.

The Deputy Mayor acknowledged not just “military people who risk their lives to carry out their duty each and every day” but others who deserve the council’s support.

“I am very keen to ensure the funeral James was meant to have does not happen again in the future,” she stated.

Cllr Smyth requested that council officers meet with the Veterans’ Champion and Veterans’ Commissioner to ensure when somebody who has provided a front line service, those organising know that help and support is available.

Macedon Ulster Unionist Cllr Robert Foster said when James Morris passed away, it touched everybody’s hearts that somebody who had given service to their country should not have been alone when it came to their passing.

He also noted the community rallied round for the funeral of Christopher Spiers after the Royal British Legion in Larne issued a request for members’ assistance to participate in the laying to rest of Rifleman Spiers whose funeral took place at Evangelical Presbyterian Church, in Ballyclare, followed by burial at Doagh Road cemetery.

Rifleman Christopher Spiers who enlisted on 11 Nov 1947 and left on 26 Feb 1953 was attached to The Royal Ulster Rifles from The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and was a Bren gunner.

A post on social media said: “His daughter and grandson are his only family, and it would be a great gesture if we could attend his funeral and to honour this Korean veteran. There will also be a poppy drop carried out. Medals to be worn.”

Cllr Foster added: “I think it is the least we as councillors can do.”

Airport councillor Alderman Paul Michael BEM, the council’s Veterans’ Champion, said:

“I commend the work of the Deputy Mayor in bringing this motion to the council and for the role she played in James Morris' funeral.”

Ald MIchael, who has been Antrim RBL chair for the last 15 years, went on to say he gave the exhortation at the graveside. He indicated the exhortation will be given for veterans if a military funeral is requested.

“If family and friends request that, then the Royal British Legion will put their role into play within this borough. It is very much down to the request of the family. Mr Morris had no known family in Randalstown.”

Dunsilly SDLP Cllr Ryan Wilson proposed an amendment that council officers liaise with a range of organisations to make sure other front line workers, such as NHS staff, “get the support they deserve when they pass away”.

Glengormley DUP Cllr Alison Bennington said she supported the original motion, adding that as part of a group of ex-service personnel, they try to work together to make themselves aware of anyone who lives alone.

Antrim Ulster Unionist Cllr Jim Montgomery stated the amendment is “not needed or appropriate” and the motion covers a “full array of organisations”.

SDLP group leader Antrim Cllr Roisin Lynch welcomed the motion which she noted “speaks of great compassion” and she acknowledged the “emotion” which Mr Morris’ funeral brought to the fore in Antrim town.

Commenting on the amendment, she explained:

“The only reason we are bringing it forward is to broaden the opportunity as a council to make sure no-one is left in that situation where they have to have a pauper’s burial.”

Glengormley Sinn Fein Cllr Michael Goodman said the amendment “highlighted that service members are not the only people who find themselves in that condition”.

“It is important that this council is to provide a service that all can avail of. I do think we need to consider how we deliver services to the broader community in the borough.”

Glengormley DUP Cllr Paula Bradley remarked:

“It is a sad indictment of the society we live in that people die alone. This is not going to fix all. I think the detail would be worth looking at.”

Cllr Smyth said she did not think an amendment is needed.

Seven councillors voted in favour of the amendment with 29 against.

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