Attwood calls on councils to practice a “new order of politics”

The Northern Ireland minister overseeing local government has called on councillors to put aside their sectarian differences following a series of disputes.

Northern Ireland troubles

The Northern Ireland minister responsible for Local Government has called on councillors to put aside their sectarian differences following a series of disputes within local authorities.

Proceedings at Limavady council were earlier this week brought to a halt after a hard-line, anti-Good Friday Agreement councillor, the TUV’s Boyd Douglas, brought a union jack flag into a council meeting, contravening the local authority’s no flag policy, and causing nationalist anger.

It follows a similar move last week when Douglas placed a mini union jack in front of the newly installed Sinn Fein mayor Sean McGlinchey in protest at his role in the 1973 Colraine Bombing which saw six pensioners loosing their lives.

Speaking to UTV during a suspension of Monday night’s council meeting to address the disruption caused, Cllr Douglas explained:

“It’s unlikely I will have any good working relationship with Sean McGlinchey. He’s a man who’s frowned upon by the unionist electorate of Limavady.

“Sunday was the anniversary of the bomb in Coleraine 38 years ago when six people were blown to pieces and many others injured. I was very sympathetic in what I said bearing in mind the loss to those families.

“I will hold the right to fly the flag when I feel I want to. I will not be using the flag in any flippant way, but when I feel it is promoting my cause.”

And addressing the new mayor directly, the DUP’s George Robinson argued:

“I, on behalf of the DUP council grouping, wish to express the outrage and hurt felt by a large cross-section of the people throughout Limavady and Coleraine council areas due to your immediate elevation to such a high position as mayor of our beautiful borough of Limavady.

“Considering your violent and murderous past, we contend that this insensitive decision by your party Sinn Fein is a deliberate insult, hugely divisive and damaging to the working relationship in this council.”

In responding to the episode, the mayor has warned that the borough could be better off being run by unelected officials given the serious nature of the sectarian divisions within the local authority. Commenting after the first protest last week, Sean McGlinchey said of the problems:

“I would say it’s one of the worst relationships of a council working anywhere and it has been for a number of years. We are supposed to be representing people on issues and that is not happening. We need a better working relationship.”

“My opinion is – and the party’s opinion is – the council would be better closing.”

The row follows events last week at Belfast City Hall where the newly installed lord mayor, Sinn Fein’s Niall Ó Donnghaile, took down pictures of Prince Charles and the Queen mother from the city hall and replaced them with the  Proclamation of Independence and a picture of the United Irishmen in an effort to establish what he described as a more “balanced” setting that better reflected Belfast as a whole.

It led the UUP’s Jim Rodgers, twice a lord mayor of the city, to warn that the conflicts between the groups would make it difficult for the authority to deliver for the people of Belfast.

Responding to the developments, the SDLP’s Alex Attwood, who as Environment minister oversees local government policy called for local authorities across Northern Ireland to embrace a “new order of politics”.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph he explained:

“I get disappointed when anybody clings to the past.  We need a new order of politics. That needs to prevail and deepen in all political institutions in the North. When people rely upon majorities, where parties try to do local deals to frustrate the popular wish, I do not agree with that.

“While I do not have any time for political intolerance I do have understanding for those that find some things difficult to accept. Local and central political leaders need to have the needs of victims more central in what they do and how they conduct themselves.

“I appreciate that things are difficult in Limavady and there are other councils in the North of Ireland where the councils do not live with the new order of politics and spirit of partnership. But, I do not agree that the answer to a political problem is to suspend a democratic process, as the mayor of Limavady says.

“That’s part of the politics of the past and that’s not the best way forward here.”

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