A proposal to shake up the way seats are assigned to Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council’s working groups has been defeated following a frank exchange of views at a Council committee meeting.
The matter was raised at a meeting of Council’s governance, resources and strategy committee on Wednesday, October 13 by independent councillor Darryn Causby.
When he asked why the matter was being discussed confidentially he was told by a Council officer that as the matter relates to the business of Council and individual members, confidential business is the appropriate place for the discussion.
Noting again that the previous discussion had been heard in open business Cllr Causby proposed the item was moved into open business.
This proposal was seconded by Alderman Stephen Moutray and there were no objections from any committee members. However, at the time of writing, the report on the matter, presented to members ahead of the meeting, has not been released to the public
During the discussion of the item, Cllr Causby set out his proposal and called for each working group to assign ten seats via the d’Hondt process with a further two seats added to each working group, one for the Alliance Party and one for the other independent councillor, Paul Berry.
Noting this discussion had already been had, Sinn Fein group leader, Councillor Liam Mackle proposed the committee recommends Cllr Causby is given a seat at these working group meetings but makes no other change until a peer review on the matter has been concluded.
Alliance Party councillor, Eoin Tennyson said his party would have a number of concerns about Cllr Causby’s proposal.
“All Cllr Causby’s proposal achieves is to stymie the voices of those parties who will lose representation on them,” said Cllr Tennyson.
“I am much more minded to support Cllr Mackle’s proposal which I think is sensible.”
Seconding Cllr Causby’s proposal, Alderman Stephen Moutray said he found it “strange and ironic” that smaller parties now appear to advocating against proportionality.
“We have three parties on this council with ten seats as we stand,” said Cllr Moutray.
“With two members on a working group that is 20 per cent of the representation yet we have the Alliance party with three seats and two on each working group that will be 66 per cent representation.
Confirming he would be supporting Cllr Mackle’s proposal, SDLP group leader, Councillor Thomas O’Hanlon described Cllr Causby’s proposal as a “warped” version of proportionality.
Cllr Causby’s proposal was then put to the chamber where it was defeated with nine votes against it, one abstention and five votes in favour.
Four members of the DUP present voted in favour of the proposal along with Cllr Causby while all the members of the Alliance Party, SDLP and Sinn Fein present voted against the proposal as did two representatives of the UUP.
Alderman Kenneth Twyble chose to abstain.
Cllr Mackle’s proposal was subsequently supported by the committee with a reverse of the vote held on Cllr Causby’s proposal with Alderman Twyble again opting to abstain.
This outcome shocked Cllr Causby who said he was “astounded” unionist members of Council decided to vote how they did.
“I am astounded the unionist members of this council have effectively voted tonight to continue the dominance of Sinn Fein, the SDLP and the Alliance Party on influential working groups,” said Cllr Causby.
“In my view those unionists who have voted to facilitate this should, come out now and explain to the electorate why they are content to hand over significant influence to those who would seek on other council to diminish any influence unionism has, the UUP should be ashamed of themselves.”
In response to these comments, UUP councillor, Louise McKinstry said she feels working groups are there to provide opportunities for elected members to discuss important issues.
“I am not ashamed to allow these working groups to continue to operate the way they do. I do think though there is a review coming up and I will be patient and wait for it.
“It will be because it is the right thing to do and only for that reason, not on the basis of orange and green.”
Cllr Mackle said it was clear the real reason Cllr Causby had brought this matter before the committee was to start a fight between the DUP and UUP.
Cllr Tennyson thanked Sinn Fein and the UUP for voting as they did and claimed there was “an undertone of blatant sectarianism” in Cllr Causby’s remarks.
Cllr O’Hanlon then said he was proud to be associated with “a true democrat” in Cllr McKinstry before the debate was brought to a close.