Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council has rejected a proposal that would see an annual event held to mark Pride in the borough.
The motion, brought to council at its monthly meeting on Monday, March 27, by Alliance Party Councillor Peter Lavery also sought permission for the local authority to participate in Belfast’s Pride parade.
Despite having the support of the 15 Alliance Party, SDLP and Sinn Fein councillors at the meeting, the motion was rejected by the 21 unionist councillors present with the DUP and UUP both branding the motion a “political stunt”.
The motion read: “This council recognises the contribution made to our borough by LGBTQ+ citizens and rejects forms of discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community.
“To show our support for equality and acceptance, this council commits to exploring participation in LGBTQ+/Pride events including:
“Exploring with the organisers of Belfast Pride for Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council to participate in their parade with other public bodies on annual basis and exploring the possibility of organising a local event to mark Pride in our borough at an appropriate point in the calendar year on an annual basis.”
Introducing the motion, Councillor Lavery said taking steps to include Pride in council’s annual calendar of events would “go a long way towards recognising the valuable contribution our LGBTQ+ citizens make to our borough”.
“As well as showing that our borough is an open and welcoming place for everyone, a vibrant and local Pride event could attract visitors to our borough in a positive way,” he said.
“Council participating in the Belfast Pride event, which is the biggest LGBTQ+ event of the year in Northern Ireland, would strengthen the organisation’s corporate message of inclusion.
“This motion, if passed, will allow officers to bring options to the appropriate committee so members could consider what would be the best forum for an annual Pride event and how local community groups and residents could participate in its organisation.”
Seconding the motion, party colleague, Councillor Jessica Johnston said the success of other Pride events show “that we can celebrate diversity in our society whilst being inclusive to all and bringing people together”.
“Participation in Pride events would show we are continuing to promote equality and acceptance in civic life,” she said.
Sinn Fein Councillor Paul Duffy told the chamber he would be supporting the motion and recalled how, during his time as Deputy Lord Mayor, he hosted an event for the borough’s LGBTQ+ citizens and attempted to bring a council delegation to Belfast’s Pride event.
“I actually brought a motion for council to send a delegation to Pride and that was called in,” he said. “Unfortunately, because it was called in, we missed the event but I do recall that council got an awful lot of bad press for missing it which, in my opinion, did have an impact on our bid for City of Culture.
“I would hope that this time round council will support this motion because I know I will be attending Pride this year, irrespective of the outcome of this vote.”
DUP Alderman Stephen Moutray said he was not surprised to see the motion come from the Alliance Party shortly before an election and described it as a “shameless use of a minority group for electoral purposes”.
“The Alliance Party has proved in the four years they have been here that they are more divisive than any other party,” he said. “They have brought this motion to the chamber tonight and the outcome, if they win, will create a hierarchy of one section of the community. Our party will not support that.
“It is estimated that two per cent of the people of Northern Ireland are LGBTQ+. It is patently wrong that this section of the community gets such considerable recognition when others do not. We will oppose this motion.”
SDLP group leader, Councillor Thomas O’Hanlon said he had “no problem with the sentiments of the motion” but sought clarity around how the motion was proposing the annual event in the borough would be organised.
“On the call to explore the possibility of organising an event to recognise Pride in our borough, can I ask the proposer how that will work?” he said.
“We have a process whereby groups, like the Loyal Orders or the groups behind St Patrick’s Day in Armagh, come to council and apply through our financial assistance process and is that how the proposer would see this event happening? If that is the case, I would have absolutely no problem supporting it.”
Alderman Jim Speers said his party would not be in favour of the motion telling the chamber it is his view it is being used to “create a bit of controversy”.
“As such, I would have no desire to become involved in a discussion about it,” he said. “It is purely being brought forward on the mouth of an election to try and endear the party to a group of people within the community.
“I would hope council treats all people in a similar way and rejects all forms of discrimination against anyone.”
Councillor Margaret Tinsley noted the motion calls for an annual event and pointed out that on every committee she is part of officers are telling councillors “we can’t do things the way we have in the past as we haven’t got the budget”.
Bringing the debate to a close, Councillor Lavery confirmed that Councillor O’Hanlon was correct and said he has already “heard from individuals and groups who wish to be involved” before stressing the motion was not about grabbing headlines as had been alleged.
“It is about grabbing our brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ+ community and standing shoulder to shoulder with them in the face of inequality,” he said.
“I think the LGBTQ+ community have been through a significant amount in the last number of decades. From being considered illegal they have been demonised, marginalised, treated with disgust and they continue to face discrimination.
“Some issues have been raised about the timing of this motion but it was the DUP and UUP who limited councillors to only bringing one motion per year and, in this, the third meeting of this year, I am bringing forward my motion.
“I think it would be helpful to our borough and would plead with members to support this motion as presented.”
The motion was then put to a vote where it was defeated with the 15 members of the Alliance Party, SDLP and Sinn Fein present voting in favour of the motion and 21 councillors – made up of Councillor Paul Berry and the DUP and UUP representatives present – voting against it.