CORK’S lord mayor has said that, despite controversy, he has no regrets about his decision to confer the freedom of the city on John Major.
And Councillor Donal Counihan said he can’t understand the hostility from some quarters.
“In my view, it’s the right thing to do at this time. We’ve all moved on politically,” he said.
He was speaking in the wake of two opinion polls conducted by local radio stations which showed overwhelming public opposition to the former British prime minister receiving the honour.
The city council voted 21-6 last Monday in favour of conferring the freedom of the city on Mr Major in a joint ceremony with former taoiseach Albert Reynolds, to honour their contributions to the peace process in northern Ireland.
George Mitchell and John Hume have already been honoured by the city for their roles in the process.
But Mr Counihan said he wants to recognise the roles of Mr Major and Mr Reynolds in kick-starting the process, negotiating a ceasefire in the north and bringing the Downing Street Declaration into being.
The decision to honour Mr Major has sparked controversy and split the council.
All three Sinn Féin city councillors are planning to boycott the ceremony in June. The Labour Party is also split over the proposal.
Two snap opinion polls— one conducted by 96fm and one by Redfm — showed public opposition to the inclusion of Mr Major.
Of the almost 1,000 people who texted the 96fm poll, a total of 97% said Mr Major should not be made a freeman of Cork.
But Mr Counihan said he couldn’t see what all the hassle was about.
“Few people have contacted me about it and those who did were very favourable. There has been no great hostility,” he said.
“When I see Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness sitting down together for the benefit of the wider community, I wonder why people would protest against Mr Major.
“He is a decent civilised type of man. He is not a hate figure.
“If the level of opposition is so high, I would like to know the fundamental reasons for their objections.”
He also revealed he had intended to confer the honour on the late former president, Dr Patrick Hillary, but had to change his mind after he was made aware of the president’s ill health.
The late president was told of the lord mayor’s intention about two weeks before he died and is said to have been touched that he was considered in such esteem by the people of Cork.
The mayor also confirmed that Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair were in the running. But he decided their roles in delivering peace could be honoured later.
Meanwhile, the process to organise the freedom ceremony for Mr Reynolds and Mr Major is underway.
Mr Reynolds has already confirmed his attendance and Mr Major’s representatives have been emailed to confirm June 20 as the date.
The custom of awarding the freedom of the city dates from the 14th century when people, who distinguished themselves in public service became an honorary burgess of the city.
Previous recipients include US president John F Kennedy, Eamon de Valera, President Mary McAleese, Jack Lynch, Mary Robinson, Sonia O’Sullivan, Roy Keane and Michael Flatley.
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