There was tension at a Policy and Resources meeting of the Fermanagh and Omagh District Council recently when a request from the Royal British Legion for a donation caused differing opinions across the chamber.

The request came by way of a letter which invited Council to attend a Northern Ireland Festival of Remembrance at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast in November and also to make a donation via the taking out of an ad in a commemorative booklet.

Councillor Tommy Maguire, Sinn Fein, stated that the Council could not give a donation as it went against its policy on charitable donations:

“It doesn’t conform with our policy of not providing financial assistance to charities,” he said before asking “Why do they come to committee when there is a clear policy regarding this? It sounds like I’m anti British Legion, but we have a policy on this.”

Celine McCartan. Director of Corporate Services and Governance, at the Council explained why the letter had been put before the committee: “By way of explanation we are trying to be very transparent in terms of correspondence that comes in to Council.”

Councillor Maguire suggested that a letter could come before committee but with a decision already made by an officer in keeping with policy: “If an officer read that letter and they see it doesn’t conform with our policy and the officer was prepared to recommend that we can’t give them financial assistance but that we could do something else, like the lighting up of buildings, to show our support then that could be brought to committee,” he said.

UUP Councillor, Victor Warrington, took issue with a donation being against Council Policy: “I would question if this is contrary to our policy. There may be answers to be sought there.

“The Royal British Legion do some sterling work and they are what they stand for, all our veterans from two world wars and other conflicts, and I think we should seriously consider doing something on this request.”

At this point acting Chief Executive, Robert Gibson addressed the meeting.

“I would have an issue that I believe that unfortunately it is outside the policy.

“I think we should ask that Council delegates to senior officers to deal with this… It looks to me like a donation, and it is pretty clear to me.”

Sinn Fein Councillor for Omagh Stephen McCann was concerned about a “precedent” being set.

“If this is proposed and followed through on this, we would be setting a very dangerous precedent.

“It could divide the chamber when it really shouldn’t have arose.”

“I think we should write to the British Legion saying that it is contrary to our charity policy and make them aware of what that policy is.”

Mr. Gibson stated that: “In the spirit of trying to find a way through this that we report any letters that come and the actions that have been taken.”

Errol Thompson, DUP councillor for Omagh, did not agree with this course of action.

“Letters should not be stopped coming to Council… It should not be brushed under the carpet. These things should come before the Council, and if it is rejected it is rejected. But say that someone will deal with it as they see fit. Myself and my party are totally against that.”

A motion was passed that letters relating to charities would come before the council but with a recommendation coming from an officer.