A SINN Fein councillor has challenged former Craigavon Mayor Alan Carson to “make a full public apology to Muslims living in Craigavon” after remarks he made during a debate on Monday night. However the DUP man insists that Councillor Johnny McGibbon is “simply scoring political points from a genuine mistake I made and for which I apologised immediately”.
In the heat of the exchange, Mr Carson stated that Muslims were “causing bother in the Middle East”. He said that the British Army represented all sides, “Protestant, Catholic, Hindu, Jew, Muslim whatever - well, maybe not Muslim”. Afterwards he said, “I realised immediately that I’d put my foot in it and apologised without reserve. But that wasn’t enough for Councillor McGibbon who saw fit to issue a press statement, accusing me of all sorts and inferring I am racist, which I certainly am not.”
The McGibbon statement claimed, “These remarks reveal the mind set that has prevented unionists from developing a realistic political programme for the future. To make insinuations against any section of the community is outrageous and unacceptable. Only a very arrogant or politically immature individual would presume to deny to others the right to voice alternative views.
“We must all accept differing points of view, but we should never allow any section of our society to be isolated or labelled during debate. Given that Councillor Carson was a recent Mayor of Craigavon, it is reasonable to assume that he understands this fundamental principle. The least therefore that can be done to make amends is a full public apology to the citizens of Craigavon and in particular our sizeable Muslim community.”
The row overshadowed the fact that the council agreed to sign up to a Community Covenant designed to support British Forces, especially the families of those killed in action, and soldiers injured in the conflict.
Alderman Arnold Hatch raised the issue - which was ultimately passed - but only after a raging exchange between McGibbon and Carson, which began with the Sinn Fein man stating that his party would not support a proposal, “which is simply a case of one unionist party trying to out-do the other”.
Mr Carson retorted, “Sinn Fein are trying to score a political point out of a comment I made in error. When I realised that I had been misunderstood I immediately apologised and withdrew the remark. But that wasn’t enough for Councillor McGibbon. I utterly deplore racism of any form. My Christian faith teaches me that everyone is equal.
“Our Armed Forces stand up for democracy regardless of race or religion. They fight for those of all faiths and none. I’ve apologised for my misunderstanding. Given that republicans still can’t apologise for 40 years of murder, they are not in the best place to lecture me about using a clumsy form of words.”
The Carson speech was in reply to Mr McGibbon stating that the British Armed forces actions towards republicans in Northern Ireland meant he could not support the Covenant move. It was supported by all unionists, with Councillor Robert Smith and Alderman Hatch the main advocates.
Councillor Joe Nelson stated that the British Government and the Royal British Legion should take on the responsibility of veterans, rather than a voluntary group, with the Hatch proposal passed on a 12-8 majority.