Former UDR ‘Greenfinches’ living in the ABC Borough are to be formally recognised for their role within the regiment in the form of commemorative brooches, which will be presented to them in the course of a service of remembrance.
The matter was debated at an Economic Development & Regeneration Committee meeting held on January 16, and while a notice of motion recommending the course of action was adopted by a large majority of committee members, it was opposed by nationalist councillors.
Women served in the UDR between 1974 and 1992, and were commonly known as ‘Greenfinches’.
The move stems from an earlier notice of motion brought to the ABC Council in January 2023.
It was proposed at the time by Alderman Glenn Barr, and seconded by fellow UUP representative, Alderman Ian Burns (both representing Banbridge DEA).
The motion was worded as follows: “That this Council recognises the significant contribution that women have made and continue to make in the defence of our great nation.
“The Ulster Defence Regiment Bill received Royal Assent on July 18, 1973, which enabled the recruitment of women to the Ulster Defence Regiment.
“Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council recognises the significant impact that the Greenfinches had in the defeat of terrorism in Northern Ireland, and in conjunction with the Regimental Association of the Ulster Defence Regiment Conspicuous Gallantry Cross (CGC), will recognise and honour the sacrifice they made.
“Council will explore a lasting tribute to the Greenfinches of the Ulster Defence Regiment CGC.”
At the committee meeting held on January 16, Nicola Mahood, Community Development manager, outlined what was being proposed.
“Officers have been liaising with representative from the Greenfinches within the local borough to agree an appropriate action to recognise the members residing in the borough.
“The proposal is a two-stage approach. The first part of it is the design of a commemorative brooch, and the second stage is a civic reception where the commemorative brooches will be distributed,” she said.
“The budget detailed in the report will be covered within the existing Community Development 2023-2024 budget.
“The approximate number of Greenfinches residing in the borough at this stage is 70, but this is to be confirmed.”
Councillor Lavelle McIlwrath (DUP, Portadown DEA), recommended a few amendments to the proposal.
“It’s very much a commemorative brooch rather than a little pin. The cost of those is coming in maybe at around £20/£25.
“My view would also be that there are more than 70 [Greenfinches]. In fact I would say there are in excess of 100 across our borough,” said Cllr McIlwrath.
“If we start to add those figures together it comes to much more than £2,000.
“Now, what I’m suggesting is within budget, I’m not asking for more budget. A lot of these folk that are involved in this have already had a reception, albeit the Armed Forces Covenant Fund paid for that.
“So my suggestion – and this is only speaking to some of these folk tonight, a few minutes before the meeting – is that we use that budget almost in its entirety to go towards the commemorative brooches, and that the presentation would be at a later stage at a church service.
“[It would be] a service of remembrance where there would be no cost to this Council.
“And that’s what I’m seeking to propose, that there would be a change in that members would agree that the £3,000 would go toward the commemorative brooches, because in my view it will take that to cover those that served in this ABC area.
“Having spoken to some of the officers tonight, they’re concerned that the money allocated for the brooches will not cover the membership in this area.”
Councillor McIlwrath’s recommendation – that brooches be presented to the local Greenfinches at a service of remembrance – was seconded by councillor Tim McClelland (DUP, Lagan River DEA).
Alderman Burns commented: “I was going to actually second the proposal.
“[When] I put in the motion, it was to recognise the service and the sacrifice made by Greenfinches of this area and also a lasting tribute, so I think that the brooches would be more appropriate.”
Councillor Julie Flaherty (UUP, Portadown DEA) expressed relief that the brooches would be presented in a suitably large venue.
“When I looked at the numbers, I know that Armagh Palace would never have serviced even 60 people, so in my head I was going ‘You’re never going to get 70’. That is solved by that proposal.”
Councillor Keith Haughian (Sinn Féin, Lurgan DEA) argued that such a proposal could not be endorsed by nationalist representatives.
“It’s not going to come as a surprise to anybody in the chamber online that we opposed it on the night, and we’re opposed to this again.
“I don’t intend to go back through the arguments for and against this tonight. I don’t think it’ll add much to the debate, but I would say anyone from the nationalist community that’s tuned in to listen to this tonight will be shaking their head in disbelief – both that this is what we’re choosing to do, and that we’re spend money in the current climate on this matter.
“On behalf of our party we are opposed to this, and if it needs to go to a vote we will be voting against it.”
Councillor Robbie Alexander (Alliance, Craigavon DEA) commented: “It’s important that we recognise the full diversity of our council area, and ensuring women are appropriately acknowledged as part of that.
“We do of course recognise that there are sensitivities in relation to our complex and contested past, and we believe that this is a relatively modest gesture, and that it’s both cognisant and respectful of the diverse views within our community.”
The recommendation to present brooches to the Greenfinches in the course of a service of remembrance was adopted with 12 votes in favour, and five against.