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Monday 11 December 2023 Dublin: 10°C
boomtown rant

He admits giving it up is 'a PR stunt', but what happens now to Bob Geldof's Freedom of Dublin?

Geldof wants the honour to be taken off Aung San Suu Kyi.

BOB GELDOF 758A8186_90529129 Eamonn Farrell / Cllr. Mannix Flynn (LEFT), Bob Geldof, DCC's Oonagh Casey (right). Eamonn Farrell / /

IF THERE’S ONE thing you can say about Bob Geldof, it’s that he certainly knows how to draw a crowd. Be it in person or via TV cameras.

His skill for doing just that is what made Live Aid the global phenomenon it was and what focused the world’s attention on the deadly Ethiopian famine 32 years ago. Not to mention numerous other causes in three decades since.

Geldof was at it again today in Dublin today, albeit on a much smaller scale but nonetheless just as effectively.

The former Boomtown Rats frontman wanted to get people talking about the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people in Myanmar and he’s succeeded in doing so.

BBC News and Sky News were among the news organisations who covered his words from City Hall in Dublin.

But his method for getting this attention has provoked some controversy in Ireland and Geldof himself has said that’s he’s not entirely happy with it.

At just after 11 am today, Geldof handed back the scroll that was given to him by Dublin City Council when the Freedom of the City was conferred on him in 2005.

The scroll, which addresses the singer as Bob Geldof K.B.E., still has the raindrops visible from the day he received the award.

20171113_112223 / RónánDuffy DCC's oonagh Casey holds up Geldof's scroll. / RónánDuffy / RónánDuffy

Geldof’s problem is that Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi also has the Freedom of Dublin. She was awarded it in 1999 while she was under house arrest.

Since then, she has been released and is the elected leader of Myanmar, a country that is currently being accused by the UN of “textbook ethnic cleansing” against the Rohingya people.

Speaking before the media today, Geldof said that he feels that Suu Kyi has let Dubliners down, labelling her “a killer”.

“I’m here to hand back the Freedom of the City of Dublin, which I don’t want to to do because it means a lot me,” Geldof told the assembled journalists.

I don’t want to be grandstanding either but it’s a small personal gesture. Aung San Suu Kyi was extravagantly welcomed in this city and I was part of it. I sang to her, I spoke of her, I raised her up on our hosannas but it turns out she’s a killer and I don’t want to be on the same list as what the UN says is a genocidist.

“We should not have any truck with this woman,” he added. “It’s ridiculous, but she’s sort of let us Dubliners down, she’s let Ireland down because we thought she was wonderful. But we’ve been duped.”

Asked if his actions were a PR stunt, Geldof was frank

“Yes, it is a PR stunt. To try to disassociate this city from a murderer,” he said

“I don’t want to give this up, I don’t want to. I get handed things by states and cities around the world, but I’m a Dub and this meant a lot to me.”

(Click here if video doesn’t play)

The problem here though is that, typically, Geldof is doing something that has not been done before.

Nobody has ever asked to be taken off the list so there isn’t a mechanism for it to happen.

On its website, Dublin City Council has the roll of those who have been presented with the keys to the city. It runs from parliamentarian Isaac Butt in 1876 to Fr Joseph Mallin in 2016.

File Photo Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi could become the first person to be stripped of the freedom of Dublin city. Laura Hutton / Aung San Suu Kyi accepting the award at Dublin's Grand Canal Square in 2012. Laura Hutton / /

On the list, Geldof sits between Olympic gold medallist Ronnie Delaney and poet Thomas Kinsella.

Suu Kyi sits beside the members of U2, who received their award on the same day she was awarded it in 1999. She was under house arrest at the time and didn’t physically accept it until 13 years later.

Geldof said he informed Bono of his plans before he went to City Hall today.

He has also said that he will happily stay on the list if Suu Kyi is removed, something that has only happened once before.

In that case it was Kuno Meyer, a German academic and Celtic scholar who was removed from the list in 1915 during World War I but was reinstated in 1920.

So what happens now?

What physically happened today was that Geldof handed back his scroll to Dublin City Council. What that implies is that he no longer wishes to be a freeman of the city.

It does not mean his name will be taken of the list of keyholders, not yet anyway.

Oonagh Casey of the DCC’s chief executive’s office said there is no plaque inscribed with names or anything. She directed journalists to the list on DCC’s website and said they haven’t yet discussed whether Geldof’s name will be removed from it.

“This only all happened this morning so we haven’t had a chance to look at procedures. We will obviously have to look at that because if it’s his wish not to have it at the moment then we will have to look at it,” she said.

The Freedom of the City was awarded to Geldof by a vote of councillors while Fine Gael’s current TD Catherine Byrne was Lord Mayor.

File Photo Bob Geldof is to hand back his Freedom of the City of Dublin, saying he does not want to be associated with the award while it is also held by Aung San Suu Kyi. Leon Farrell / Bob Geldof gets the award from thye Lord Mayor Catherine Byrne in March 2006. Leon Farrell / /

Casey made it clear that the honour is conferred by the council and not its officials, so a decision to remove someone from the list will have to be discussed and made by councillors. The next meeting where that may happen is in December.

There is in fact a meeting tonight but it’s supposed to be about budgetary matters alone.

“We have a budget meeting tonight but business other than the budget is not on the agenda. My gut is that it will come up but I can’t say that for sure,” Casey said.

For now though, Bob Geldof remains a freeman of the city of Dublin. Even if he doesn’t want to be.

Read: Bob Geldof defends decision to return the Freedom of the City of Dublin >

Read: Do you think Bob Geldof is right to return his Freedom of Dublin award? >

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