herald

Friday 28 July 2017

Sinn Fein councillors split over freedom of Dublin for Obamas

Michelle and Barack Obama in Dublin in 2011
Michelle and Barack Obama in Dublin in 2011

Sinn Fein councillors were divided on a vote to award Barack and Michelle Obama the freedom of Dublin.

It is understood that two representatives voted for the proposal put forward by Lord Mayor Brendan Carr while the majority were firmly against it.

Of the 14 Sinn Fein representatives at the council meeting, 11 voted against the Obamas being honoured, two voted for an Emma Murphy abstained.

Cabra Sinn Fein councillor Seamus McGrattan and Ballymun representative Noeleen Reilly voted in favour of the proposal.

The vote to award the Obamas the distinction has caused controversy among councillors, with only 30 of the 57 present voting in favour of the proposal.

Draconian

In his speech, Mr Carr said the honour had been conferred on couples before.

"In light of the recent draconian decisions being taken by Mr Obama's successor, President Donald Trump, I believe it is more important now than ever that I proceed with this proposal," he said.

"There is also precedence for a couple being awarded the freedom of the city.

"In 1985, the honour was bestowed on the Crown Prince and Princess of Japan for their diplomatic activities.

"It is largely in this tradition that I am proposing the granting of the freedom of Dublin to Barack and Michelle Obama.

"I believe Barack and Michelle Obama did set the right direction for the US both domestically and in international relations of seeking to build a cohesive and inclusive society which respects all its constituent communities.

"This was done often in the face of stiff opposition from a Congress and a US military and commercial establishment which unfortunately is not as supportive of these aims as the former First Couple.

"While I'm acutely aware of the failings of US foreign policy during the presidency of Barack Obama, I believe he and Michelle, through their promotion of the rights of refugees, humanitarian causes and focus on improving international relations with several states, did point American society in a progressive direction."

People Before Profit councillors John Lyons, Tina MacVeigh, Andrew Keegan and Hazel de Nortuin left the council chamber following the vote.

Mr McGrattan said that while he listened to the arguments made by both sides, his mind was made up before Monday night's full council meeting in City Hall.

"We decided there wouldn't be a whip on it because there were different views within the group," he said.

"As this was a big issue that people had such different views on, it would be unfair to ask them to vote a different way.

"I don't think the decision was against Barack Obama, it was probably against the policies of America, in particular their foreign policy, which I have difficulty with me myself.

Criticism

"I looked at the individual and I think he has done a lot, I think he's one of the most progressive presidents that America has had, particularly in light of his successor."

Despite his remarks on Mr Trump, Mr McGrattan stopped short of criticising Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, who recently said he would visit the US president on St Patrick's Day if he was invited.

"Maybe I've a slightly different opinion on that. Sometimes when you're in positions of leadership you have to make those tough decisions," he said.

"This man has been elected by the majority of people, so we have to accept that.

"Sometimes in politics you have to make those decisions, particularly in the position of leadership he is in."

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