by JENNY MONROE
COMMENTS by an SDLP Assembly candidate criticising the erection of a statue in the middle of Lisburn as a tribute to the Ulster Defence Regiment, have enraged unionist members of Lisburn City Council.
Last week the Star reported Pat Catney saying he believed "where there should be a united political and community focus on relevant bread and butter issues we now appear to be heading towards a squalid sectarian stunt". Mr Catney's comments followed Sinn Fein MLA Paul Butler's criticism of the memorial, when he described it as "insensitive and intimidating" to the city's nationalist population.
But at Tuesday night's monthly meeting of the Council several members slammed Mr Catney's remarks about the 19 foot high statue which is due to go up in Market Square within the next three months, as "insulting" and "cheap".
DUP Councillor William Leatham said Mr Catney's remarks were the "cheapest of stunts to politicise a memorial for everyone who wore the UDR uniform - which included people from both sides of the community".
He said: "This is such an emotive issue and his remarks are degrading."
Mr Leatham said the issue of the memorial was raised at a monthly meeting in May 2006 and it was the subject of an equality impact assessment by the Council, which received overwhelming approval. He said: "Councillor Paul Butler did not make a formal complaint to the Equality Commission at the time so it is a case of put up or shut up."
UUP Councillor Ronnie Crawford said he was very disappointed with Mr Catney's tone. "I wonder if he understands the hurt and pain he has caused to the families of those who died" he asked, adding; "The council is not spending money on this," Mr Crawford said the comments were equivalent to "dancing on the graves of the dead". He continued: "There is nothing cheaper than doing this for political purposes. We will reveal that statue with the same dignity as when we bury the dead."
Alderman Jim Dillon (UUP) said he was surprised at Mr Catney's attitude and asked the Deputy Mayor, SDLP Councillor Brian Heading if he supported what his party colleague said.
Mr. Heading said he was not speaking on behalf of Mr. Catney. He described it as a sensitive issue and said that Mr Catney's comments were made "in election mode" and suggested the members should speak directly to Mr Catney.
Sinn Fein Councillor Arder Carson told the meeting that members of his community who have been affected by the UDR were concerned by the "occasion not the memorial".
He commented: "The Colin area equals one third of the Council population and this Council needs to take this on board." TUV Alderman Cecil Calvert described anyone speaking out against the memorial as "obnoxious". He said: "I am very pleased the memorial is going up in a very prominent place. While some may not like it the majority will agree with it." Councillor Jenny Palmer (DUP) said she was hurt by Mr Catney's comments, which she believed had "opened up old wounds".
"She said: Are we going to remove the Nicholson memorial because it offends people from the Indian community?
"This City is a garrison City and has always been connected with the army. I'm proud of this memorial. It is quite remiss that we should not pay tribute to the men who died."
The Mayor, DUP Alderman Paul Porter, said it was regrettable people "run to the press when they are not elected here or when they were didn't bring it up. I do believe reckless comments have caused a lot of concern and grief."