Northern Ireland

Ballymena council agree to offer Liam Neeson freedom award

Ballymena Borough Council has unanimously agreed to offer Liam Neeson the Freedom of the Borough.

At a council meeting on Monday evening, Mayor of Ballymena PJ McAvoy proposed that the actor should be given the award.

The Oscar-nominated actor is best known for his starring roles in the Star Wars film The Phantom Menace, Schindler's List and Michael Collins.

It is expected that a ceremony could take place next year.

Ballymena Mayor PJ McAvoy was delighted that the award was to be honoured. "I am absolutely delighted that my colleagues have unanimously agreed to offer what is a very significant honour to Liam Neeson.

"This is the highest accolade that a Council can bestow on one of its citizens," he said.

Speaking from his home in New York, Liam Neeson said he was honoured and delighted to accept this prestigious award from Ballymena Borough Council.

Neeson said, "Enormous strides have been made in my native Northern Ireland in the past decade, demonstrated by political, social and economic changes that came about through a combination of courage, generosity and persistence."

Only three people have been awarded the freedom of Ballymena, they include Dr Ian Paisley, Dr Syd Millar and Sandy Spence.

It is not the first time Ballymena council has planned to grant the actor the honour.

In 2000, Democratic Unionist Party councillors objected to the proposal because of alleged derogatory remarks Neeson made about his experiences growing up in the County Antrim town.

At the time, Neeson was quoted as saying in an American magazine 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 12 July commemoration of the Battle of the Boyne.

Following the controversy, Neeson wrote a letter to the council.

It said: "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 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."

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