Tensions emerge over plan to award freedom of city to trio

Tensions have emerged over plans to confer the freedom of Cork on three people this year — the highest ever number of recipients in a single year.

Lord Mayor John Buttimer (FG) has told party whips on Cork City Council that he would like council support to make Frank Duggan and Michael Twomey, the duo behind the Cha and Miah characters, and entertainer Billa O’Connell freemen of the city at a ceremony in City Hall next month.

However, several councillors — including some in the mayor’s own party — have expressed concerns at the “freedom threesome”.

It follows controversy in 2011 over how many times the award was being handed out — two people in 2005, 2008, and 2009.

Consideration was given at the time to reducing the number of awards to just two over the council’s five-year term in an effort to protect its integrity, and councillors also proposed strict selection procedures to eliminate possible embarrassment to proposed recipients.

However, Cllr Terry Shannon (FF), who did not host a freedom of the city ceremony during his term as mayor last year, said no changes were introduced.

“The freedom of the city is the highest award this city can bestow but it is being given out too often.

“It’s our party’s view, and it’s my own view too, that giving it out annually diminishes the prestige of the award.

“This isn’t about the personalities involved or proposed. In this case, I know all three personally and acknowledge their contribution to the arts, to theatre, and to the cultural life of the city.

“But three is a bit much — a bit over the top. What will it be next year? Four? Or five?”

However, Cllr Joe O’Callaghan (FG) said he believed the mayor’s nominations would get broad support from the council.

“It is unprecedented to have three, but if ever there was to be a ménage à trois, it was to be with these three characters,” he said.

“While some might think three is a bit too much, these nominees are legends of Cork entertainment for over 50 years and I am sure the mayor will be supported.”

Mr Buttimer declined to comment in detail on his proposal and said it was now a matter for the council to consider.

It is expected to come before full council for a vote in two weeks.

Honour roll

Previous freedom of Cork awards:

*2012: No ceremony

*2011: Seán Óg Ó hAilpín

*2010: Peter Barry

*2009: Dean Denis O’Connor and Sr Eucharia Buckley

*2008: Albert Reynolds and John Major

*2007: Michael Flatley

*2006: Mary McAleese

*2005: Roy Keane and Sonia O’Sullivan

*2004: John Hume

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