TUV proposal to swap Tricolour lighting for white illumination at Belfast City Hall to mark Irish President’s birthday defeated

Councillor Ron McDowell wanted to mark Apprentice Boys anniversary dates on Michael D Higgins’ birthday

Belfast City Hall
Belfast City Hall Belfast City Hall

A proposal by a TUV councillor to light up Belfast City Hall in white instead of the colours of the Irish flag to mark the birthday of President Michael D Higgins has been rejected.

Ron McDowell, who represents the Court DEA, put forward the proposal at Monday evening’s full meeting of Belfast City Council, after he said he was “surprised” that the suggestion from a member of the public to illuminate the building with green, white and orange on April 18 “has got this far”.

The date is President Higgins’ 83rd birthday, and the suggestion had been unanimously agreed by councillors at last month’s Strategic Policy and Resources Committee.

However, Councillor McDowell said that as the request had been made by a member of the public, it could “open the floodgates” for further requests, including for “King Billy’s birthday, (Edward) Carson’s birthday, and James Craig’s birthday”.

Belfast City Hall first installed its ‘intelligent’ flood lighting system in 2013, allowing the building to be illuminated in different colours to mark occasions or celebrate causes
Belfast City Hall is illuminated in different colours to mark various significant dates throughout the year.

He referred to April 18 also marking the anniversary of the beginning of the Siege of Derry in 1689, and the 335th anniversary of the Apprentice Boys of Derry.

“You could have the loyal orders parading on 18 April when City Hall is lit up in green, white and orange. A City Hall that we are hearing tonight is supposed to be for everybody,” he said.

“Rather than just going with a partisan, pro-union approach to dilute a green, white and orange City Hall, I have a proposal that on the 18 April, to both mark the closing of the gates of Derry 335 years ago, and to mark the birthday of President Higgins on 18 April, that City Hall is lit up in white to acknowledge both.”

The famous closing of the gates of Derry by young apprentices, who inspired the naming of the Apprentice Boys, happened in December 1688 and is marked in December by the loyal order.

April 18, 1689, is the date the second attempt by Jacobite forces to enter Derry happened during the Williamite War, sparking the 105-day Siege of Derry.

Sinn Féin’s Ciaran Beattie said there was precedent for requests from the public to be made to the council, and also referred to the lighting of City Hall in red, white and blur last November to mark the birthday of King Charles.

“The reality is that President Higgins is important to a lot of people in this city. Why is in only an issue when it comes to the President of Ireland?” he said.

President Michael D Higgins
President Michael D Higgins. (PA)

Councillor McDowell, said he had not taken the proposal to mark President Higgins birthday “off the table”, and referring to a white illumination added: “It’s still there.”

Mr Beattie replied: “But you’re changing the colours and you’re including Derry. What has this building got to do with Derry?”

It was confirmed that the council’s City Solicitor is engaging with Áras an Uachtaráin on whether or not using the colours of the Irish flag is the correct protocol for marking his birthday.

However, SDLP councillor Séamas De Faoite said it was “totally unedifying” that such a debate was taking place and the issue was “being politicised out of all proportion” while President Higgins remained in hospital after taking ill last week.

Following a vote, the TUV councillor’s proposal was defeated by 16 votes for to 39 against.