Tree to be planted to mark Covenant

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A JOINT unionist proposal to have a tree planted at the Civic Centre to commemorate the signing of the Ulster Covenant has been narrowly passed by Craigavon Council.

The proposal to plant the tree was put forward by the DUP and UUP, though Sinn Fein strongly believed it was a decision that shouldn’t have been taken as a stand alone issue.

In proposing the motion DUP Councillor Robert Smith told councillors the unionist delegation wished for the Mayor of Craigavon to plant a commemorative tree within the grounds of the Civic Centre to mark the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Ulster Covenant.

UUP Councillor Colin McCusker seconded the motion by saying: “I would like to place on record my thanks to Alderman Moutray and his council group for inviting the Ulster Unionists, the party of Carson and Craig, to jointly endorse this proposal.

“The Covenant centenary events are a celebration of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and there is no threat to nationalism by me wanting to commemorate my history, heritage and culture.”

Mr McCusker told how he attended an Armagh GAA match as a guest of SDLP councillors Joe Nelson and Declan McAlinden. He stated: “My attendance at that event I believe doesn’t lessen my unionism or Orangeism - if anything it makes it stronger.

“I have no problem whatsoever in embracing the culture and heritage of others, I only wish others in this chamber would do the same.”

Sinn Fein Councillor Johnny McGibbon proposed that the matter be referred to the Elected Members Forum which was to be set up to deal with the ‘Decade of Centuries’ in an “holistic” way.

He was informed the body had not yet been formally established.

Party colleague Councillor Mark O’Dowd gave the example of the 1916 Rising and asked would the Elected Members Forum be set up to deal with how this anniversary would be commemorated or would it too be dealt with by a stand alone vote.

The SDLP’s Joe Nelson said he didn’t see the tree as a threat to his nationalism, but didn’t think the civic centre was appropriate given it is supposed to be a shared space.

Councillor Robert Smith said: “The tree will never grow an inch if we put it up for wider conjecture. This motion stands by itself this evening.”

A vote was taken on Councillor McGibbon’s proposal to refer the matter to the Elected Members Forum. His proposal was defeated by 11 votes to 10.

A vote was then taken on the proposal to plant the tree at the Civic Centre which was passed by same voting pattern of 11 votes to 10.

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