There was no meeting of minds at a recent full council sitting of Mid Ulster District Council, over a proposal to request a free portrait of King Charles, with a vote on the issue highlighting a sharp divide along unionist/nationalist lines.
Mid Ulster Council had received a letter from the Cabinet Office, indicating that all public authorities throughout the UK can apply for a free, framed portrait of HM the King to mark the new reign.
Addressing his council colleagues at the December 14 meeting, DUP councillor for the Dungannon DEA, Clement Cuthbertson, stated: “Just in relation to the letter from the Cabinet Office I want to propose that we avail of the offer of the free portrait of His Majesty the King.”
His proposal was seconded by UUP councillor Trevor Wilson for the Cookstown DEA.
Councillor Barry Monteith – an Independent republican councillor – outlined his opposition.
He said: “I think it would be a retrograde step, as a republican, to impose the promotion of monarchy and inherited power and privilege where we’re putting any human being as in any way better to any other human being.
“I think it would be a mistake for us to buy into the promotion of monarchism. I would suggest that we do not avail of the opportunity for the portrait.”
Council chairperson, Sinn Fein councillor Dominic Molloy, decided to put the issue to a vote, stating: “I’m pretty sure we know where the debate is going. The Council does have a policy around our flags and emblems and it has worked pretty well to date, so I will put it to a vote.
“It’s a simple yes or no. Either we accept the portrait or we do not, so yes for councillor Cuthbertson’s proposal or not.”
A vote was then taken on the issue, with 24 councillors voting against the proposal – including all the Sinn Fein representatives in attendance – and 11 voting in favour – including all DUP councillors attending the meeting.
Councillor Cuthbertson said he was “very disappointed, while not surprised” with the outcome of the vote.
He added: “I’d remind Council that during the last mandate, the highlight of that particular year – if not of the whole term of the Council – was the royal visit of King Charles, the then Prince of Wales, to Cookstown.
“It was the highlight, it was a boost to the area, and I think it’s a very negative and disappointing step, it’s a step that’s just showing no tolerance whatsoever for the unionist community.
“This [portrait] is free, it’s not costing the Council any money, and once again it shows that there is no space for unionism in this Council, and unionist views are not recognised on it.”
Like his SDLP colleagues, councillor Malachy Quinn for the Torrent DEA, voted against the motion.
He argued that this was in keeping with Mid Ulster District Council’s policy on flags and emblems, saying: “The policy of the council is to have no symbols or flags in or on our buildings.
“SDLP pushed for that at the start of the council in 2014, and I think it is something that has saved us from a lot of rows that have affected other councils which don’t have that neutrality.
“The way the proposal for the King Charles portrait was brought to the council in December I believe was designed to be rejected for the purposes of a social media post, rather than get cross-party agreement.”
He added: “We as a party would have happily discussed the possibility of the council taking the portrait for the purpose of giving it to an interested local community group.
“I’m not sure if that is possible, but I think that would have been a far better option, and I know several local groups that would have jumped at the chance to receive it.
“I don’t know how others would have voted on that but I’d have been open to the discussion.
“Neither the DUP or the UUP proposed that or gave it as an option, we were asked to vote on the council receiving it and displaying it, which would be against policy and that’s why we voted against it.”