Michelle Weir (Local Democracy Reporter)
Row erupts among Mid and East Antrim councillors over church ministers’ refreshments request
A row has erupted among Mid and East Antrim councillors over a request for refreshments by Larne Ministers’ Club.
Larne MInisters’ Club contacted the borough council in connection with a service of thanksgiving to mark the Platinum Jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen next year.
The inter-denominational event is to be held at First Larne Presbyterian Church on February 6. The Archbishop of Armagh Rev Dr John McDowell has been invited to attend.
An invitation has also been extended to the mayor and councillors who have been asked to attend in their robes for what the organisers say is a “major civic event”.
“We would further request that in keeping with former events of this nature, the council could fund the printing of the order of service for this event and also the light refreshments to follow”, a letter to council said.
However, the request was met with opposition from Alliance representatives.
Speaking at a meeting of the borough council on Monday evening, Knockagh councillor Alderman Noel Williams said:
“Absolutely nothing to do with religion. I have some concerns regarding this and the event.
“The organisers are requesting that we provide refreshments. I know Covid is around and that may be difficult in itself. However they do mention that this will go on to potentially be an annual event so do we want to commit ourselves to providing refreshments for this year on year. That is a concern I have.
“With regard to the 70th anniversary of Her Majesty the Queen, again asking to provide refreshments. It could be a considerable amount of people, a considerable crowd. Again, I just wonder do we want to commit ourselves to this financial outlay without putting a cap on the issue are my concerns.”
Larne Lough DUP Councillor Gregg McKeen said:
“Unlike Ald Williams, knowing the MInisters’ Club, and the type of people who are involved with this, I have no doubt and I’m happy to propose that we work with them. I think we as a council should be seeking to support them and work with them in whatever way we can to make this event a prestigious and fitting a tribute.”
Seconding the proposal, Larne Lough Ulster Unionist Councillor Keith Turner said:
“This is an inter-denominational service. I would second this proposal and I look forward to attending.”
Ballymena Alliance Councillor Patricia O’Lynn asked Mayor Councillor William McCaughey to note her opposition.
Party colleague Larne Lough Councillor Danny Donnelly said:
“I’m not against this per se. Are we providing the town hall for free? I know that there normally is a charge for using the town hall for an event and if a charity was to rent it out, a fee would be involved in that.
“Is that what we are being asked to do here and are we setting a precedent? I would just like to ask are we being asked to provide the town hall for free.”
Acting Chief Executive Philip Thompson stated that the Ministers’ Club has since made alternative arrangements for an event due to be held on December 13.
“But the proposal is that we work with this group. What they have asked to date is around printing the order of service and providing refreshments. There is no mention of the town hall for the second event. The venue is First Larne Presbyterian Church. I think the proposal is that we work with the group.”
Cllr O’Lynn asked for further clarification that the proposal is to work with the group and to print the order of service and provide refreshments.
“I would like to record my opposition to that, not because I don’t think it is a good event but for the reasons raised by Cllr Donnelly, I think we are missing something. We are going to set a precedent here. If we do it for one organisation, we are going to have to do it for others. I think we are opening a can of worms. I am opposed to it and would like that recorded.”
Bannside Sinn Fein Councillor Ian Friary commented:
“I am against it, especially the one on the 6th of February.”
A request was also received from the Ministers’ Club for the town hall to be made available on December 13 and for the council to provide refreshments following a Christmas inter-church event.
This will involve congregation members visiting each other’s churches before returning to the town hall for a service to which the mayor has been invited. The event is to be hosted by Larne Methodist Church, St MacNissi’s and the Salvation Army.
The mayor told the meeting that he and his deputy could not attend as the event coincides with a committee meeting and that due to Covid, the room at the town hall could only accommodate 30 people whereas the ministers’ club is expecting 80 people to be in attendance.
He went on to say that the council has been continuing to work with the group to “work out arrangements for this event”.