Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council has agreed to confer the Freedom of the Borough on the cancer charity for the service provided to people with life-limiting and life-threatening conditions, and for the support provided to their families within both the Borough of Antrim and Newtownabbey and across Northern Ireland.
An official ceremony will take place in late spring.
The motion was proposed by Glengormley Alliance Alderman Julian McGrath and seconded by six councillors.
Commenting on the Freedom honour, Antrim and Newtownabbey Mayor Councillor Billy Webb said; “The Freedom of the Borough is one of the highest honours that the council can bestow on an individual or organisation.
“It is a most fitting award for the Northern Ireland Hospice who have provided a critical end of life service to many both in our borough and across Northern Ireland for 39 years.
“The Northern Ireland Hospice is very close to my heart and the Children’s Hospice is one of my two chosen charities for my term in office. I am thrilled that they have been honoured with this award.”
Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Hospice Heather Weir commented; “We are absolutely delighted that Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council has chosen to bestow the Freedom of the Borough on the Hospice.
“It has been a difficult couple of years for us due to the Covid pandemic but despite the challenges we have continued to provide our specialist care for the local community. We are honoured that the council has recognised our work in
such a significant way and we are so grateful for their ongoing support.”
The Hospice cares for people living in Northern Ireland with cancer, COPD, Motor Neurone Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, dementia and other illnesses.
Speaking at a special meeting of the council on Monday evening, Ald McGrath said that the first Hospice nurse started work in 1983.
He indicated that the Hospice has grown to provide specialist palliative care to 4,000 patients annually as well as providing support for families and since 2001, it has been providing specialist care for children and young people.
“In this, the 21st year of the Children’s Hospice, it would be fitting to confer the Freedom of the Borough.”
DUP group leader Alderman Phillip Brett spoke of the “exceptional and outstanding care” provided by the hospice, which he described, as a “unique and amazing organisation” which has provided support to patients and their families in their “darkest hour”.
Noting that the borough is home to the Northern Ireland Children’s Hospice, at O’Neill Road, Glengormley, he added: “As a council, it is right and fitting to confer the highest honour we can on all those involved with the Hospice.
“I hope in some way, this honour shows how much the organisation means to each and every one of us.”
Glengormley Ulster Unionist Alderman Mark Cosgrove said he believed that the Hospice should be fully funded by the public purse.
Approximately 45 per cent of the £6.64m annual running costs of adult Hospice services are met by statutory funding and 35 per cent of the £3.82m cost to run children’s service.
“It is completely right we confer the highest honour on the Hospice and Children’s Hospice, the whole hospice family,” stated Ald Cosgrove.
Alliance group leader Antrim Councillor Neil Kelly said that he was “more than happy” to second the motion to confer the Freedom of the Borough on the Northern Ireland Hospice for its “exceptional work”.
Glengormley SDLP Councillor Noreen McClelland commented: “Like many in this chamber and community, I know first-hand the work of the hospice and its care, love and compassion of staff and volunteers.”
She acknowledged its respite care and “wraparound service” which enable family life to continue in the knowledge that a loved one is in the “best possible place”.
Dunsilly Sinn Fein Councillor Henry Cushinan said that he was “more than happy” to support the motion in recognition of the work of what he described as a “marvellous institution”.
Ballyclare Independent Councillor Michael Stewart spoke of his family’s experience of the Hospice which had cared for his late father and that although it was almost 20 years ago, he said, that the staff’s “compassion and care would never be forgotten”.
“I hope we can help this amazing charity support more families like ourselves,” he added.
The prestigious recognition has been conferred upon other community and sporting organisations and individuals for four decades.
The most recent recipient was World Superbike Champion Dr Jonathan Rea OBE in 2019.
Sir AP McCoy received the accolade in 2005 and Dr Willie John McBride is a Freeman of the Borough having had the honour bestowed upon him in 1992.
Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter