THREE Union Jacks flew from City Hall yesterday — a sign of how far Ireland has come, said former British prime minister John Major.
“Outside I saw a Union Jack flying alongside the Irish flag,” he told reporters after receiving the freedom of the city.
“I very much doubt I would have seen that prior to the Downing Street Declaration.” A crowd of about 20 protesters that had gathered on the street outside criticised the move. They shouted abuse as Mr Major, flanked by his security detail and Albert Reynolds, were greeted on their arrival at the steps of City Hall by the lord mayor.
About a dozen members of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement shouted “Brits out” as the men walked inside to receive the freedom of the city. They said the decision to confer the honour on Mr Major disgraced the memories of former lord mayors of Cork, Tomás MacCurtain, who was shot by the RIC in March 1920, and Terence MacSwiney, who died on hunger strike in October 1920 in a protest over British occupation.
Several gardaí kept the protesters under watch and behind barriers.
Mr Major and Mr Reynolds both dismissed the protest.
“I must say I’ve been dealing with a lifetime of protests,” said Mr Major.
“I’m supremely unconcerned with the protest. They’re just lucky they are in a country in which they can protest freely.”
Mr Reynolds said one of the protesters shouted “I’m disappointed” at him as he walked in.
“I looked back at him and said ‘I’m even more disappointed with you’,” said Mr Reynolds.
Sinn Féin, which boycotted the ceremony, said flying the Union Jack was a disgrace and it lodged a formal complaint with City Hall
“It is bad enough to roll out red carpet for John Major, but this is a disgrace. I don’t see the sense of it,” said Councillor Jonathan O’Brien.
After consultation with head office, three Sinn Féin councillors, and socialist Councillor Mick Barry, boycotted yesterday’s ceremony.
City Hall said it received one phone call from a member of the public about the Union Jack flags.
Freedom of Cork
THE Freedom of Cork is the city’s highest award and is conferred once a year.
The ceremonial honour acknowledges the contribution certain people have made to the life of the city or country.
The custom dates from the 14th century whereby persons distinguished for public service became honorary burgesses of the city.
The recipient is nominated by the lord mayor and agreed by the council.
The title was created under the Municipal Privileges Ireland Act, 1876 and each city in Ireland had the right to confer it.
No financial or other benefits are attached to the freedom of Cork, unlike in Dublin where it carries ancient privileges and duties.
Freemen of Cork are presented with a casket, crafted by silversmiths Sean Carroll and Sons, which features the city’s coat of arms, and contains a scroll, decorated with Gaelic letters, with the wording of the resolution to confer them with the freedom of the city, and signed by the lord mayor and city manager.
Previous recipients include John F Kennedy, Eamon de Valera, Mary McAleese, Jack Lynch, Mary Robinson, Sonia O’Sullivan, Roy Keane and Michael Flatley.
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