FORMER British prime minister John Major has said he is “enormously touched” to be chosen to receive the freedom of Cork.
Mr Major also said that he is “very much looking forward” to accepting the city’s highest honour in a joint ceremony with former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds on Friday.
The decision in May by Lord Mayor Donal Counihan to honour Mr Major sparked objections from Sinn Féin and some Labour party members.
Rumours were circulating yesterday that the former Tory leader would not attend the ceremony because of controversy surrounding the event.
But City Hall moved last night to quash the rumours and said city officials are liaising almost on a daily basis with Mr Major’s personal secretary to ensure everything runs smoothly.
They said Mr Major has indicated in writing his delight to be chosen for the honour and that he is very much looking forward to personally accepting the honour on Friday.
Mr Counihan said he wants to recognise the roles of Mr Major and Mr Reynolds in kick-starting the Northern peace process, negotiating a ceasefire in the north and bringing the Downing Street Declaration into being.
However, Socialist Party councillor Mick Barry said he plans to boycott the ceremony.
He said Mr Major led Britain into the first Gulf War in 1991 in which tens of thousands of innocents were slaughtered.
“It beggars belief that this can be put to one side 17 years on and the man be awarded a prize for services to peace,” he said.
And he also criticised Mr Reynolds, who as Minister for Industry and Commerce, was in cabinet when Cork’s North Infirmary was closed in 1987.
“A man who played such a role in inflicting one of the greatest wrongs of recent times on the people of Cork should not be the recipient of Cork’s highest municipal honour,” he said.
Sinn Féin has indicated that while it does not support the conferring of the honour on Mr Major, it will not be actively opposing it.
Mr Major and his wife Norma are expected in Cork on Friday for the ceremony at 3pm. They have invited family members and friends, including multi-millionaire dancer Michael Flatley, and his wife Niamh, who are expected to attend. Mr Flatley received the freedom of Cork last year.
Previous recipients include President John F Kennedy, Douglas Hyde, John Hume, President Mary McAleese, former Taoiseach Jack Lynch and Roy Keane.
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