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Council defers decision on Mormon request to photograph graves

Fears that pictures of local headstones online have the potential to be used for criminal gains have been raised by a local Independent councillor.

David Jones, speaking during a meeting of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council, warned that names and dates of birth could be falsified, especially as the information would be available to such a wide public domain.

It was at the end of August that Armagh I revealed a recommendation to allow all headstones in council owned cemeteries across the borough to be photographed to aid a global family ancestry project.

The project was at the request of the Latter Day Church, more commonly known as the Mormons.

Church representative Brian Monroe made a formal request to Kernan Cemetery office seeking permission to conduct the photographic survey.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, in conjunction with Brigham Young University in Utah, provide a web-based app with GPS for headstone positioning and a website – BillionGraves.Com – which collects, organises and displays gravestones throughout the world.

When Armagh I revealed the request to council, our followers expressed their dissatisfaction at the move.

And those very concerns have made it to the council floor, with local representatives raising their own.

SF Councillor Gemma McKenna explained that, while the council owned the cemetery, the families owned the headstones, and she said permission would need to be sought from family members who may not want the photographs to go on the internet.

She said council “needed to be careful in dealing with this request” as it was “a very sensitive issue”.

Councillor McKenna was told by a council official that people could request to have a photo removed; it had been highlighted that is was a public cemetery and anyone could come in and take pictures.

But Councillor McKenna reiterated that the issue was with the council granting permission for the pictures to be taken and published worldwide. She was worried people could have concerns with this.

Councillors were told there was “no time urgency” attached to the request and the official “took on board the valid points raised”. He said officers could come back to a future committee with more information

Councillor McKenna said she would not have an issue with the information from the headstones being listed on a spreadsheet.

Rather, her isssue was with the actual photographs, as she felt this was “disrespectful to the deceased and their families”.

SF Cllr Maire Cairns enquired whether the actual photo was posted on the website or just the headstone inscription. She said from an historic point of view the information would be good for family research and something council could market for tourism.

But the councillor agreed it needed “some more clarity”.

In response to a question from DUP Alderman Paul Rankin, it was confirmed that council held records of who purchased each plot in the cemetery and people could write in to request this information.

It was recommended and agreed that officers would seek additional information and a further report be brought back to the next committee meeting.

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