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Fraught exchanges over council proposal to send letters of support to bomb attacks victims

Thursday, 2 March 2017

DERRY City and Strabane District Council is sending letters of support to the victims of bomb attacks in Sion Mills and the city last week - but the decision was not unanimous.

There were fraught exchanges among some elected representatives at last Thursday's monthly meeting of the council when the proposal was put to the floor.

Thirty-four councillors supported the proposal from the SDLP's Angela Dobbins but four independent councillors did not take part in the vote including Paul Gallagher, Gary Donnelly, Darren O'Reilly and Warren Robinson.

Opening the discussion, the Mayor Hilary McClintock described the bomb attack, which targeted a police officer in the city, and a device which was left at the home of former Strabane District Policing Partnership (DPP) member, Mary McCrea in Sion Mills on Wednesday last as "despicable acts".

She said the perpetrators were attempting "to drag Northern Ireland back into the past by instilling fear and intimidation" and urged the council chamber to send out a "strong message that it's unacceptable".

Speaking of the Sion alert, the UUP's Derek Hussey, who knows Mrs McCrea well, said: "This involved a lady who has served her community for many years and continues to do so. When I phoned the lady it was typical of her that her concern was for the upset, trauma and upheaval that was being caused to her neighbours and friends.

"I cannot understand what anybody would seek to achieve by such a scurrilous action. I totally condemn it and express my disgust at what occurred in Sion Mills," he said, before voicing the same sentiments about the attack on the police officer.

The DUP's Drew Thompson added his condemnation of both attacks, adding: "It is despicable and there is no place in our society for these types of actions."

The UUP's Mary Hamilton said she had sympathy for the victims whilst independent unionist, Maurice Devenney branded the perpetrators as "cowards".

"These (incidents) should be unanimously condemned from all sides in this chamber," he added.

Controversy then unfolded when independent councillor, Gary Donnelly accused representatives of "selective condemnation".

"There have been recent attacks, particularly bomb attacks in the loyalist community, and it didn't merit any condemnation coming from this chamber. The amount of hypocrisy coming from this chamber is almost breathtaking."

He continued: "There's people dying in this world on a daily basis and if condemnation could change that I'd be the first to engage. The reality is; condemnation achieves nothing and its nauseating when it comes from hypocrites.... There's not one single elected representative in this council who can say that their hands are clean," he said.

His remarks drew shouts of "shame" from some other councillors as well as an angry response from the DUP's Drew Thompson, who said he "took great exception".

"Cllr Donnelly needs to think very, very carefully what he's saying here... I challenge him now, state who you are talking about!"

Derek Hussey said he too found the comments "totally out of order" and asked for them to be withdrawn.

Mayor McClintock intervened to call the meeting to order and asked councillors to move on instead of engaging in "tit for tat".

Sinn Féin's Maoliosa McHugh pointed out to councillors that they had all committed to a democratic framework.

"The very fact that we are in this chamber, we are the very people who have committed ourselves to a democratic pathway and we should be encouraging that in every respect and encouraging that same dialogue between parties rather than the acrimonious type of exchanges that we have witnessed here." he said.

He added that he believed the incidents could be related to the election period and paid tribute to the McCrea family "who were more concerned about their neighbours".

"If everybody could show the same degree of concern those individuals had done to their community and society then I think the world would be a much better place," he added.

Cllr Dobbins' letter proposal, seconded by SF's Tony Hassan, was eventually put to a recorded vote and passed.

Meanwhile, police have confirmed that the object left outside in the garden of the home at Sycamore Avenue, Sion Mills, last Wednesday was a pipe-bomb device and have appealed for anyone with information to come forward.

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