Or, indeed, not to wear clothes… ANYhoo… On Thursday The Belfast Telegraph reported Sinn Féin’s ‘farcical’ attempt to prevent Belfast City Council granting permission for local artist and political cartoonist Brian John Spencer to “sketch the Council Chamber and the Council meeting in January”. At a Council Strategic Policy and Resources Committee meeting in December 2018 a Sinn Féin motion rejecting the request – which “would involve Mr Spencer being allowed access to the Chamber for a couple of hours prior to the meeting commencing and for him to be present in the VIP Gallery to also sketch during the meeting” – was passed on a show of hands (7 for, none against). That SF motion was passed despite the recommendation of the Council’s Democratic Services Manager to accede to the request.
At Monday night’s meeting, however, an amendment was tabled by Ulster Unionist councillor Jeffrey Dudgeon seeking to reverse the decision.
“This is to my mind, and I think most members here would agree, is a needless act of censorship on the part of those members who voted to deny the request,” he said.
Councillor Dudgeon said there is a long tradition of artists painting parliaments and assemblies in session and if the “ban” was upheld by council it would breach the artist’s freedom of expression rights.
Sinn Fein’s council group leader Ciaran Beattie, however, said, regardless if the council gave the artist future permission to sketch the council chamber, he would not be given permission to draw Sinn Fein representatives.
“The artist involved has been involved in some controversial cartoons – namely about our party as well,” he said.
“We will be opposing it and, whether we are successful or not, the cartoonist will not have permission to draw me or, I’m sure, any of my colleagues.”
SDLP councillor Donal Lyons said Sinn Fein’s stance on the issue was “absolute farce”.
“I’m quite surprised that we’re even having this conversation that, because somebody has painted a cartoon of a political party that they didn’t like they are willing to censor him,” he said.
“And to do so in such a way as ‘we’re not giving our support so it won’t be happening’ – I mean, it’s absolute farce.”
Sinn Fein’s Arder Carson said that it was his democratic right to choose not to be painted.
“I have a right to choose what I want to do as well, so if you want to deny me my right in a democratic chamber and you vote for this, then I definitely won’t be here – so you are censoring me.” [added emphasis throughout]
Councillor Dudgeon’s amendment to reverse the decision not allow Brian John Spencer to sketch the council was passed, with 34 votes in favour and 19 against.
And from an earlier News Letter report
Sinn Féin were accused of attempting censorship by, amongst others, UUP councillor Jeffrey Dudgeon.
Sinn Féin councillor Arder Carson responded: “If you vote for this, I definitely won’t be here so you’re censoring me.”
He added: “You’ll be censoring me by me having to leave the chamber.”
The proposal to block the artist’s request was defeated on Monday night [7 Jan] when it was voted down by all parties present except Sinn Féin.
Mr Dudgeon, speaking to the News Letter, said: “It’s a worrying example of Sinn Féin whenever they think that they are in charge. They just can’t take criticism. Brian John Spencer hasn’t only singled out Sinn Féin in particular. Everyone is a potential target, particularly if they are being hypocritical or silly.”
He added: “It is worrying that an artist would be picked out in this way.”
[DUP councillor Brian] Kingston said: “They’ve opened themselves up to ridicule. They’re boycotting Westminster and the Assembly – now Belfast City Council as well?” [added emphasis throughout again]
Mr Spencer did not address Sinn Féin’s opposition directly and instead chose to highlight the diverse range of events he has painted in the past.
“I’m a passionate Irish artist,” he said, “I’ve painted events ranging from gay pride in Belfast to an Ulster rugby match. I’ve painted the Malin GAA grounds and Cashel Castle in Tipperary, bars in Killarney and the Glenshane Pass.”
“This island is a great place and possesses so much I want to paint.”
As The News Letter’s Sam McBride noted
If SF councillors can't bear to have someone who they think is anti-SF (in reality, @brianjohnspencr has lampooned the DUP & been scolded by the UDA magazine) draw them, would they have a problem if a journalist critical of SF sat on the press bench? What if they began to doodle?
— Sam McBride (@SJAMcBride) January 11, 2019