At a Belfast Council committee meeting on Friday, a request from DUP Alderman Dean McCullough to “illuminate the City Hall in blue and white in solidarity with the nation state of Israel and its people” did not receive sufficient votes to be carried.
A counter proposal by Sinn Féin Councillor Matt Garrett, calling for a ceasefire from all parties in the Middle East crisis, and the lighting of the civic building in white for peace, was carried. On a vote Councillor Garrett’s request passed with 14 votes from Sinn Féin, Alliance, the SDLP, while the DUP objected with five votes.
DUP Councillor Sarah Bunting spoke on behalf of party colleague Alderman Dean McCullough, who was not present at the Strategic Policy and Resources Committee. She told the chamber his request was submitted the day after the Hamas attack in southern Israel.
She said: “This will show a stand against a proscribed terrorist organisation that indiscriminately tortured and murdered men, women and children, that attacked and raped women, that kidnapped men, women, children and elderly including Holocaust survivors.
“There are plenty of previous examples of this council lighting up in solidarity with countries under terrorist attack. In 2015 we lit up in the colours of the French flag in the wake of attacks in Paris and Nice, and in 2016 we lit up in black, yellow and red after the Brussels terror attacks.
“In 2017 we lit up in red, white and blue after the terrorist attack in London, and again in 2017 with the union flag flying after the Manchester attack. Last year we lit up in the colours of the Ukrainian flag after the attack from Russia.
“These have previously been approved through emails, and through party group leaders meetings. This was taken to party group leaders last week, where it was refused, but it was agreed there and then when Councillor Long proposed lighting up white.
“We didn’t object to that, but we would like this request to be heard, and we would like clarity as to why this request was sent to committee, when other requests have been decided (elsewhere).”
Sinn Féin Councillor Ciaran Beattie said: “What happened on October 7th was a war crime, and it was condemned widely across the world, and rightly so. What has happened since then has been multiple war crimes – the cutting off of water, food, electricity, the starving of over two million people, the bombing of schools, hospitals, medical facilities, with over 1,000 children dead.”
“The rationale for this council agreeing to light this City Hall in white is to show our solidarity with all the people who have died, and to call for peace.
“Taking one side or the other won’t achieve that, it will just inflame the tensions in this city. We have seen mass protests on the street, there were probably about 10,000 people outside City Hall, angry with what was happening in Gaza.”
Alliance Councillor Sam Nelson reminded the chamber the idea to light City Hall white was initially proposed by Alliance group leader Councillor Michael Long. He said: “The context here is an ongoing bloody conflict with issues on both sides of human rights and war crimes, and we have to take cognisance of that when we are taking a position. Lighting this City Hall in white does that.
“What better message can we send as a city. We have been through much – it pales in comparison to what is happening there now – but we have been through this. We know that the only way forward for a society that is deeply divided, with loss of life and conflict happening, is peace and reconciliation. We can tell the rest of the world that.”
Councillor Matt Garrett proposed alongside illuminating City Hall in white, the council “calls for a ceasefire, an international intervention, and a lasting peace in the region.” He accepted an Alliance addition to make a call for the release of hostages taken by Hamas, and the establishment of a peace process.
Councillor Garrett also asked that the proposal not be subject to the council’s “call-in” procedure, which reviews and delays proposals and motions. The City Solicitor Nora Largey said the call-in process could only be suspended when there “was an emergency in relation to the Civil Contingencies Act or if there were contractual liabilities on the part of the council.”
No details were given during the committee meeting as to when City Hall would be illuminated.