Council turns down request to illuminate buildings for Anti-Slavery Day

The Braid, Ballymena
Michelle Weir

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council is to continue its policy not to illuminate civic buildings following a request from the Department of Justice to mark Anti-Slavery Day.

It has been asked to light buildings in red to mark Anti-Slavery Day on October 18 as “a statement against the crime of modern slavery and human trafficking”.

However, the council decided to discontinue its policy of illuminating its three main civic buildings in 2019 and to demonstrate support for charities and awareness campaigns in alternative ways.

The authority made an exception in October last year to light its main buildings blue and green at the request of the government as part of the Northern Ireland Centenary Programme.

In March, the borough council decided against illuminating civic buildings in the colours of Ukraine instead agreeing to fly the country’s flag in a show of support.

Speaking at a council meeting on Monday evening, Braid DUP councillor William McCaughey said: “This is always a difficult one when you get a request like this coming into council.

“I do not think there is anybody sitting in this room who would not find this practice absolutely abhorrent,” he stated.

He went on to say that the council put a policy in place in 2019 and added that it needs to “adhere to policy”.

Cllr McCaughey said councillors had been made aware at the time of the “substantial cost” of illuminating buildings.

He went on to say that there is not the “lighting capacity” and it is not “just a matter of flicking a switch”.

“It is very difficult for us to say yes to one and no to another. I think we have stuck to it very well since October 2019 and I think we still need to adhere to that policy,” he added.

“We are coming into a cost of living crisis which highlights even more our expenditure. An even greater light will be shone on us and what we are doing with the public purse.

“I propose we just adhere to our policy. If we want to highlight it in some other way, I am more than happy to support that.”

Ballymena TUV councilor Matthew Armstrong said:”There is not a soul in this chamber who would condone any form of slavery.”

He said that the cost associated with meeting requests for illuminating civic buildings is “not tenable”.

“Us as a council is trying to make savings, trying to find money. I do not think anything has changed in terms of cost.  I am happy to second. On this occasion and in future instances of similar requests,I think we should stick to council policy.”

Knockagh UUP councillor Andrew Wilson said: “It is a recognised policy . There are other ways of doing it.”