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Tuesday, 21 March, 2000, 23:07 GMT
Neeson refuses hometown honour
Liam Neeson(right): Starred alongside Ewan McGregor in The Phantom Menace
Neeson(right): starred in The Phantom Menace
Hollywood actor Liam Neeson has turned down an offer by his Northern Ireland home town to honour him.

In a statement through his publicist Neeson has said that the controversy which erupted in Ballymena, County Antrim, over plans to offer him Freedom of the Borough has made it "inappropriate" for him to accept.

He said: "Although I very much appreciate, and am greatly honoured by, the majority decision of Ballymena Council to offer me the Freedom of the Borough,

"I nonetheless believe that it would be inappropriate for me to accept in view of the stated opposition of some Members and the resultant controversy, which has already been extensively canvassed in the media.

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
"I will always remain very proud of my upbringing in, and association with, the town and my country of birth, which I will continue to promote at every opportunity.

"Indeed I regard the enduring support which I have received over the years from all sections of the community in Ballymena as being more than sufficient recognition for any success which I may have achieved as an actor."

Ballymena Council wrote 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 after a majority of members voted for the move.

The DUP want their leader Ian Paisley to be honoured
The DUP wanted their leader Ian Paisley to be honoured
But councillors from Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party 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.

DUP councillor Maurice Hayes said he felt Ian Paisley and the now disbanded Ulster Special Constabulary should be honoured instead.

Speaking after Mr Neeson's statement he said the actor was right not to accept the freedom of the borough because public opinion in Ballymena was against the award.

But Ulster Unionist Mayor of Ballymena James Currie, who proposed the motion, said it had received majority support on the council and said he was "Ballymena's most famous son".

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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08 Mar 00 | Northern Ireland
Dispute over Liam Neeson honour
02 Oct 98 | Entertainment
Film stars give libel win to Omagh
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