Delegation fails to attend Somme service

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A delegation from Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council has been criticised for failing to attend one of the wreath laying events held in France last week to mark the 99th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme.

Representatives from councils across Northern Ireland travelled to France and Belgium to honour those who made the ultimate sacrifice almost 100 years ago.

Councillors were expected to attend three wreath-laying services on July 1 but there were raised eyebrows when the entire Lisburn delegation failed to attend the ceremony held to honour those from the Irish Division who died on July 1, 1916.

The visit, which is funded from council coffers, is expected to represent the people of Lisburn, many of whose relatives died at the Somme and across the battlefields of the First World War.

However, the Lisburn delegation did not attend the last of the three commemorations, for the Irish Division.

Representatives from other councils attended all three wreath-laying services and there was surprise that the Lisburn delegation did not attend every event.

However, a spokesperson for Lisburn City Council said there was “illness” amongst the delegation and that was why they did not attend the three events.

“During the past week the first delegation from the new Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council visited battlefields, cemeteries and memorials in the Messines, Somme and Ypres areas to pay respect to those that lost their lives fighting for the freedom of future generations in the First World War.

“At the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres on the afternoon of Tuesday 30th June, the delegation laid a wreath to mark the council’s respect for all those brave soldiers who did not return from the conflict in that area of Belgium between 1914 and 1918.

“On Wednesday 1st July, the council delegation attended two remembrance services at the Thiepval Memorial and at the Ulster Tower, Thiepval. Due to illness within the delegation, the delegation was unable to attend another event later that afternoon.

“On Thursday 2nd July, the council delegation visited the Irish Peace Park at Messines and paid tribute to those who lost their lives serving in the 10th and 16th Irish Divisions and the 36th Ulster Division.”

The Mayor of Lisburn, Councillor Thomas Beckett, who was not part of the delegation to France, was also criticised for not attending the wreath-laying ceremony at the Lisburn war memorial on July 1.

According to a council spokesperson, Mr Beckett had a “long-standing personal commitment” and Alderman James Tinsley laid the wreath in his place.

“In Lisburn on Wednesday 1st July the Council paid tribute to all those who lost their lives at the Battle of the Somme at the War Memorial in Lisburn,” explained the council spokesperson.

“Alderman James Tinsley, Chairman of the Council’s Corporate Services Committee, laid the wreath on behalf of the Council as the Mayor had a long-standing private engagement that day and the Deputy Mayor was participating at another Somme commemoration.”