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Special council to be convened in bid to diffuse simmering tensions

Craigavon Civic Centre Council Chamber

Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council will host a special meeting this Wednesday (July 19), to discuss the make-up of the council’s party leaders’ forum.

In June it was revealed that the DUP backed a Sinn Féin proposal to remove parties with only one seat on the council and independents, from the behind closed doors party leaders’ forum. This decision means the SDLP, TUV and Alderman Paul Berry no longer have a voice on the forum.

While not a decision-making body, the party leaders’ forum has previously been described, by those familiar with its workings, as a “sounding board for council officers”.

In previous council terms, Ald. Berry and other single member parties, such as UKIP, each had a seat at the table.

With tensions simmering about this decision, the UUP’s leader on the council, Alderman Ian Burns sent a letter to Lord Mayor, Alderman Margaret Tinsley on Friday, July 7, requesting a special meeting “with the purpose of discussing the party leaders’ forum in an open session” and this request has now been approved.

In a social media post at 6pm on Sunday, July 16, a council spokesperson confirmed the meeting will take place this Wednesday, July 19.

“A special hybrid council meeting will take place on Wednesday, July 19 at 6:30pm,” said the spokesperson.

Ald Burns’ letter to the Lord Mayor calling for this meeting to take place was signed by the borough’s six UUP councillors, SDLP councillor Thomas O’Hanlon, TUV councillor Keith Ratcliffe and Ald Paul Berry.

It reads: “I am emailing on behalf of the below group (all have been cc’d into this email and are in agreement) to request that you convene a special meeting of the Council in line with Standing Order 3.2 with the purposed of discussing the party leaders forum in an open session.

“As you will be aware this is already in the public domain and, as there is no financial cost attributed, we believe an open session of full council is adequate.

“We are concerned that the minority voice of Council is being diminished.

“It is our intention, should not you not accede to our request, to proceed in line with the process set out in standing order 3.2.

“I look forward to hearing from you in a timely manner.

“Kind Regards, Alderman Ian Burns on behalf of: Alderman Glenn Barr, Alderman Gordon Kennedy, Alderman Ian Burns, Councillor Kyle Savage, Councillor Kate Evans, Councillor Julie Flaherty, Alderman Paul Berry, Councillor Thomas O’Hanlon and Councillor Keith Ratcliffe.”

Council’s standing order 3.2 says the Lord Mayor must call a meeting of the council if, a request for such a meeting, supported by nine members (one-fifth of the whole number of members), is presented to him/her.

It continues by noting: “If the Lord Mayor either refuses or does not call this meeting within seven days of service of this request then the nine members may call a meeting of the Council at the expiration of this period.”

Currently Sinn Féin has 15 seats on ABC council, the DUP has 13, the UUP has six and the Alliance Party has four while the SDLP, TUV and independents have one each. The party leaders’ forum is now made up of council’s Lord Mayor, the Alliance Party’s group leader, the DUP’s group leader, Sinn Féin’s group leader and the UUP’s group leader.

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