The Arts Council is to meet with Ballymena Council to discuss its decision regarding the use of flags and symbols in the Braid Centre. Confirmation that the meeting was taking place was given to local Sinn Féin MLA Daithí McKay in an answer to a question he put to Culture Minister Carál Ní Chuilín. Sinn Féin has said that the decision not to keep the Braid Centre neutral and free from flags could put at risk the £2 million grant that the Arts Council gave to the Council.
Mr McKay said
“Most councils across the north keep their council chambers free of flags and Ballymena Council should do the same rather than becoming embroiled in court cases and putting a £2million grant at risk. Ratepayers would have expected the council to have matured by now and realise that to increase economic prosperity, tourism and investment Ballymena needs a modern pluralist image, one that is accepting of different cultures and the sensitivities that already exist in this area.
“The controversy over the Braid Centre as well as the resultant reinforcement of negative views of the town should have been avoided. The council should have listened to the legal opinion that they were provided instead of ignoring it. They should also have taken into account previous court judgements made in regard to flags and symbols elsewhere in the north.
“This council should be neutral for workers and councillors alike. Erecting the flag of the old Stormont regime in the council sends out a clear message to Catholics that work in the council as well as Catholics that live in this district – it is truly pathetic.
“From the onset of this discussion Sinn Féin along with others has been advocating Equality or Neutrality on the issue of flags and emblems. That is a common sense approach. Council buildings should be a welcome place for all who work in them and for all who visit them.
“Unionist councillors have put a £2million grant for the Braid centre at risk and this may now be lost as this decision was reached without consultation with the Arts Council. I have put a series of questions to the Arts & Culture Minister about this and it is to be welcomed that the Arts Council will now be meeting with the council to discuss this matter. It is a basic condition of all lottery funding that projects supported must be open and accessible to all sections of the community. All Arts Council contracts also contain clauses relating to withholding of funds or claw back of funds if an organisation breaches any condition of grant. This clearly outlines what the potential cost of council’s obsession with flags could be and I do not think that ratepayers will want to pick up this £2million tab.
“We are in difficult economic times. Does anyone really think that leaving this council open to being taken through the courts over the next few years on the basis of these flags is going to help create jobs and prosperity? Of course not, if anything it will make people think twice of shopping here or coming to do business here, it will have a negative effect on people's perception of the town. That is not what we in Sinn Féin want and that is certainly not what local ratepayers want."