A move to reduce the number of motions a councillor can table in a single calendar year to one has been branded a “cruel attempt to muzzle smaller parties”.
A recommendation to limit one tabled motion per party in a calendar month was dramatically overturned in Craigavon last night.
The DUP and UUP instead recommended that motions be limited to one for each councillor in a given calendar year.
ABC Alliance councillor Eoin Tennyson, speaking after the recommendation was passed on a vote of 22 to 15, said it was an attempt to silence his party.
“This dramatic departure from current practice is a blatant attempt by the DUP and UUP to suppress the democratic process and silence the Alliance Party as the smallest group on ABC Council,” councillor Tennyson blasted.
“It is of fundamental importance that councillors are able to freely bring motions forward for debate in order to give their constituents a voice and have their views heard.
“To put this into context, I have already tabled three motions in just six months on hugely important issues like LGBTQ+ inclusion in civic life and environmental protection.
“Our ability to enact change and raise issues for debate will now be severely impaired.
“I have no doubt that these dirty tactics in the run up to an election are the result of Alliance’s recent electoral success and our drive to deliver on manifesto commitments through notices of motion.
“Nevertheless, it is a crude and crass attempt to stifle debate and shut down the voices of minority parties. It is deeply unfair to the people we represent.”
Speaking in chamber on Monday night, DUP councillor Mark Baxter said he was concerned about the amount of motions being put forward.
He proposed that it could be more “proportional” if every councillor could bring one motion forward every calendar year staring in September. This was seconded by party colleague, councillor Darryn Causby.
Sinn Fein’s Garath Keating suggested that this could be referred back to committee for further discussion calling it “a fairly dramatic proposal to be tabled and agreed this evening”.
SDLP councillor Thomas O’Hanlon commented: “Whilst I understand what councillor Baxter is saying, I don’t think this should happen without a full discussion at the working group.”
Ulster Unionist councillor Julie Flaherty added: “As chair of the governing committee and working group, we have been discussing this for what feels like an eternity.
“It is all well bringing forward these motions but they have to have worth and they have to have value.”
Councillor O’Hanlon retorted: “I don’t believe that by stifling this debate we are going to have progress.”
Councillor Causby said: “To say this is stifling the views of councillors is rubbish, many of the motions are to write letters or discuss issues which have no baring on the council.”
Ulster Unionist Jim Speers questioned why some matters are brought before council.
“They maybe good for letting off steam but the value to the working of the council is very very little.”
However, Sinn Fein’s Catherine Nelson described the move as “a crass attempt to shut down smaller parties, of which we are not one; they have a mandate and this is democracy.”
Party colleague Liam Mackle called it “a cruel attempt to muzzle smaller parties”.
Councillor Keating said it was “absolutely abhorrent”.
“This is democracy,” he added. “This has nothing to do with parties, it is to do with individual councillors, and it is so centrally important to the work we do for citizens.”
Councillor Tennyson, during the debate last night said: “I can’t help but feel this is an attempt to suppress us; it is probably aimed at me. Since I was elected I have brought forward three motions, all three of which relate to council business.
“These were incredibly important to the people I represent; I have a wealth of proposals and maybe it scares the other parties because they don’t.”
Independent councillor Paul Berry concluded: “A lot of these motions are PR stunts; they are wasting officers time and wasting our time.”
The DUP recommendation was passed 22 votes to 15.