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Chamber split as councillors rubber stamp £120,000 NI Centenary celebrations

Civic Centre centenary

Members of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council have voted in favour of Council’s amended plans to mark Northern Ireland’s 100th anniversary.

The decision to support the plans, as recommended by Council’s economic development and regeneration committee, was taken at December’s monthly meeting of Council.

A proposal to reject the committee’s recommendation was put forward on the night by Sinn Fein group leader Councillor Liam Mackle and seconded by his party colleague, Councillor Paul Duffy.

Formative plans for the celebrations were first brought to Council’s economic development and regeneration committee in November, where unionist members of the committee were unhappy with what was presented.

At the time, DUP Alderman Stephen Moutray told officers they should be “embarrassed” by the contents of the report and a proposal from Councillor Mark Baxter, seconded by Alderman Ian Burns, saw officers redraw their plans.

Revised plans were brought before the committee in December with two options, both with an allocated budget of £120,000 put to members.

DUP group leader Mark Baxter proposed that option one was supported by Council and this proposal was seconded by UUP Alderman Ian Burns.

All DUP and UUP members of the committee voted in favour of the proposal with all SDLP and Sinn Fein councillors voting against .

The committee Chair, Alliance Party councillor Brian Pope abstained from the vote. As a result, Councillor Baxter’s proposal passed with 11 votes in favour, eight against and one abstention recorded.

However, upon discussion of the committee meeting’s minutes at December’s meeting of full council, Councillor Liam Mackle proposed that Council did not accept the recommendation put forward by the committee.

This proposal was seconded by his party colleague Councillor Paul Duffy.

Councillor Pope said it “was very important” that the occasion is marked and noted the need for education and cultural events to be spread throughout the borough.

He also expressed his concerns about budgets and the idea of a large event taking place giving the current pandemic.

“I would propose we accept the original recommendation from the November committee that listed the programme, including the £70,000 budget,” said Councillor Pope. This proposal was seconded by his party’s group leader, Councillor Eoin Tennyson.

Speaking about the issue, Councillor Tennyson said the programme had been discussed at length and explained, from his perspective, initial discussions were constructive.

“All parties engaged with a view to marking the centenary in a way that was inclusive and respectful,” said Councillor Tennyson. “I think the original recommendation that was presented by officers to the committee was one that did that.

“It would allow us to mark the centenary in a way that was inclusive and reflective of the entire borough and also balanced against the need to be prudent in terms of the financial situation we as a council and indeed many of our rate payers are in.

“I can’t in good conscience support a proposal that would see this council commit to an additional £60,000 unbudgeted spend. The reality is that money is going to have be found through the estimates process.

“We could end up in the situation where that money will have to be found through a rates hike or cuts to services. I think Councillor Pope’s proposal is an eminently sensible one and I hope all parties can see it in themselves to support that approach.”

DUP councillor Darryn Causby sought clarity on what was being proposed and if the proposals tabled complied with standing orders.

“Under standing order 21.1.6 there should only be one amendment moved and discussed at one time, the same applies for proposals on the floor,” said Councillor Causby.

“There was one on the floor, Councillor Pope then put a second one on the floor but can I please get clarity on the first one [Councillor Mackle’s proposal] it seems to be a direct negative of what is in the papers and under standing orders I am not clear on whether that is acceptable.

“The other point I would raise is the budget was actually agreed at the November council meeting and we just ratified that a short time ago.

“If someone is not happy with that, I suggest they look through standing orders and bring a rescinding motion to change that decision.”

At this point Council’s Lord Mayor, Councillor Kevin Savage informed members he needed to speak with Council’s Chief Executive Roger Wilson and muted his microphone.

Following his confidential discussion with Mr Wilson, the Lord Mayor confirmed the budget had already been agreed before putting Councillor Mackle’s proposal, to reject the recommendation put forward by the committee, to the floor.

All unionist councillors present voted against the proposal as did the three members of the Alliance Party. The members of Sinn Fein and the SDLP voted in favour of the proposal.

With the votes totalled, the proposal was defeated with 25 members voting against the proposal and 16 voting in favour.

The Lord Mayor then explained that as the recommendation of the committee stands, a rescinding motion would be required before Councillor Tennyson’s proposal could be heard.

Councillor Tennyson said he was not sure he agreed with this interpretation.

“The proposal was that we proceed with the programme originally proposed by officers, not the budget,” said Councillor Tennyson.

“The budget may have been agreed, the programme has never been agreed therefore a rescinding motion is not required.

“We have proposed that we proceed with the original programme as proposed to the economic development and regeneration committee, it just so happened to be at a cost of £70,000.

“I would be quite keen for that to be voted on as I do not share the analysis that a rescinding motion is required for a decision that has never been taken.”

Councillor Baxter then said that as a matter of process given that Councillor Mackle’s proposal has fallen by “default the recommendation goes through”.

“I do note Alliance are quite clearly trying to claw back as they could not bring themselves to vote for the celebration of Northern Ireland at the last committee meeting,” said Councillor Baxter.

“By the very fact Councillor Mackle’s proposal has failed this recommendation from the committee is going through.”

The Lord Mayor said that was his understanding as well and the recommendation as it stands has now gone through.

A proposal to accept the minutes of the committee was put forward by Councillor Brian Pope and seconded by SDLP group leader, Councillor Thomas O’Hanlon.

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