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BBC NI's Mike Lee talks to local people in Ballymena
Mixed views in Ballymena over Neeson honour
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Wednesday, 8 March, 2000, 15:39 GMT
Dispute over Liam Neeson honour
Liam Neeson(right): Starred alongside Ewan McGregor in The Phantom Menace
Neeson(right): starred in The Phantom Menace
A dispute has erupted in Hollywood actor Liam Neeson's home town in Northern Ireland over plans to honour him.

Ballymena Council has written to Neeson, who is best known for his starring roles in the Star Wars film The Phantom Menace, Schindler's List and Michael Collins, to offer him the Freedom of the Borough.

But councillors from the Rev Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party have objected to the proposal because of alleged derogatory remarks Neeson made about his experiences growing up in the County Antrim town.

Neeson was quoted as saying in an American magazine last year that he felt "second class" as a Catholic growing up in the mainly Protestant town and felt he had to stay indoors during the loyalist July 12 commemoration of the Battle of the Boyne.

The DUP has also objected to comments Neeson allegedly made about the annual commemoration, which is the culmination of the Protestant Orange Order's summer "marching season".

'Honour Paisley instead'

DUP councillor Maurice Mills told BBC Radio Ulster that he felt DUP leader and North Antrim MP Ian Paisley and the now disbanded Ulster Special Constabulary should be honoured instead.

The DUP want their leader Ian Paisley to be honoured
The DUP want their leader Ian Paisley to be honoured
"There has been no due recognition of Mr Paisley and the Ulster Special Constabulary by the Council," he said.

"Mr Neeson has vilified the people of this town and in particular the Protestant people of this town and he has also questioned the celebration of the 12th of July.

"I don't think someone who expressed words such as that could be described as one of the leading sons of Ballymena.

"The fact is that Dr Paisley is a member of the DUP and it is an embarrassment to the Ulster Unionist Party to have him given the freedom of the borough."

'Neeson world famous'

But Ulster Unionist Mayor of Ballymena James Currie, who proposed the motion, said: "The DUP controlled Ballymena council for 16 years.

Liam Neeson read a poem on the Bridge of Hope album to raise money for Omagh victims
Neeson read a poem on the album recorded to raise money for Omagh victims
"During that time they didn't think it worthwhile to convey the freedom of their borough on their leader.

"I put forward a notice of motion in the proper way at the monthly meeting. Everyone knew it was coming. We discussed it. We voted on it and the majority voted to award Mr Neeson the freedom of the borough."

He added: "If you look on the internet Mr Neeson describes himself as British. He accepted the OBE. He is a son of Ballymena and I think he is its most famous son at the moment, all over the world in many languages."

Starring roles

Liam Neeson was awarded the OBE in the 2000 New Year's Honours list.

Before taking to the stage, he was a boxer and a forklift truck driver.

He was spotted by film director John Boorman while acting at Dublin's Abbey Theatre. He then appeared in Boorman's film Excalibur in 1981.

He and his wife, Natasha Richardson brought a successful libel action against a number of UK newspapers over allegations that he was planning to leave acting after starring in the Star Wars blockbuster.

They donated the five figure proceeds of the case to the fund set up to help those injured and bereaved in the Omagh bomb.

He was nominated for an academy award for his portrayal of a German businessman who prevented thousands of Jews from being sent to Nazi death camps in Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List.

Another of his most prominent roles in recent years has been his portrayal of Irish rebel leader Michael Collins.

His other film roles include parts in The Mission, Suspect and Rob Roy.

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02 Oct 98 |  Entertainment
Film stars give libel win to Omagh
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