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Council mayor ‘makes no apologies’ for wearing chain-of-office to visit jailed republican

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Council mayor ‘makes no apologies’ for wearing chain-of-office to visit jailed republican thumbnailDUP Alderman, Hilary McClintock, a former Mayor, who tabled a motion against Mayor Maolíosa McHugh, at the monthly meeting of Derry City and Strabane District Council.

MAYOR of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Maolíosa McHugh, has told a meeting of council that he makes "no apologies whatsoever" for wearing his mayoral chain-of-office to visit a jailed republican.

The Sinn Fein Mayor, from Castlederg, has come under fire from Unionists in recent weeks for wearing the civic chain to visit former IRA Man, Tony Taylor, at Maghaberry Prison earlier this month.

At Thursday's monthly meeting of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Mayor McHugh faced down a DUP motion accusing him of politicising his role as the district's First Citizen.

Tabling the motion, former Mayor and DUP councillor, Alderman Hilary McClintock, claimed the civic responsibility of the Mayor to represent all had been "severely compromised by the ongoing politicisation of the role by Mayor McHugh, wearing the chain-of-office on several occasions whilst promoting his own party politics to the detriment of good relations." The motion was seconded by DUP councillor, Drew Thompson.

 She called for her successor to "apologise for his actions and commit to carry out his duties in an inclusive manner and represent all the citizens of the council area for the remainder of his term."

 Alderman McClintock also said it was the Mayor's duty to "demonstrate political neutrality and ensure that the principles of equality and fairness are integral."

 She added that Cllr McHugh's attendance at the prison with the chain alongside his wearing of it at a Sinn Fein election victory rally and a rally in the city to call for the release of Tony Taylor had caused "considerable offence to many innocent victims of terrorism".

"Mayor, you have consistently promoted your culture and your geunine love of the Irish language whilst not showing any reciprocal sensitivity, understanding or respect to those who expect to hear you give even a token acknowledgement to the rightful name of this city, Londonderry," she said.

The DUP representative added that many steps had been taken to improve relations across the community but that she felt those had taken "a backward step" during his mayorship.

"Serious questions are being asked in many areas of this council district of your ability to continue to fulfil your role but what I ask today is that you acknowledge the hurt that you have caused to a sizeable number of residents in this council area and that you refafirm today that party politics and the Mayoral role are not to be confused so as not to jeopardise further the carrying out of your duties in a sensitive and inclsuive and apolitical manner, representing all the citizens of this council area. What I am asking for today is equality, respect and integrity," Alderman McClintock said.

Responding to the comments, Mayor McHugh said he was disappointed with the motion. He said that he had visited many groups within the district and had never asked anyone about their religious affiliation or politics.

"That's because I see it as my duty as Mayor to represent this council and those communities and show respect by engaging and being in attendance with them.

"Tony Taylor is a resident of our community and a resident of this city who is incarcerated at this time effectively without trial because the evidence which he is held under is not subject to scrutiny, it is internment.

"A prisoner is the most weakest person within our society and as Mayor I take great pride in standing for the basic rights of that prisoner as I would do for you Alderman McClintock or any other person in here or this community, should you find yourself incarcerated under similar circumstances.

"I stand with the most deprived, not only being aware of his incaeration but the fact that his family, his wife, his son who has special needs, are effectively incarcerated as well. I make no apologies whatsoever for raising what is a human rights issue.

"For one to imply for one second that I was promoting a party political agenda, there couldnt have been anything further from the truth."

Mr McHugh told his DUP opponent that "one would need to get used to it because I won't shirk away from that responsibility throughout the rest of my times as Mayor."

 

Sinn Fein councillor, Eric McGinley, told the meeting that the motion was "ill-timed" adding that Mr McHugh "very ably" represented all the citizens of the district.

"It baffles us as to why this is in other than some sort of notion that the DUP at this particular time are pursuing some sense of victimhood. That's the only conclusion that we can come to," he added.

Independent unionist, Maurice Devenney, said there was "grave concerns" within the unionist community and the jail visit had "driven division".

He called for the Mayor to "consider his position" but it failed to gain enough support to become the substantive motion.

Independent councillor, Gary Donnelly, spoke of his support for the Mayor who although he disagreed on many issues with him, said he found him "courteous and respectful". The sentiment was echoed by the SDLP's Brian Tierney.

He said supporting the release of Tony Taylor was council's corporate position "whether the DUP liked it or not" but conceded that there were "some geuine concerns" around protocol which had been raised.

Strabane independent councillor, Paul Gallagher, said that there were times when he and the Mayor didn't "see eye to eye" but that he felt that he had always behaved with the "utmost courtesy".

"You were very right to do what you done in the sense that the corporate view of this council is to support the immediate release of Tony Taylor.

"It is but proper that in your role of Mayor that you endorse the corporate position of this council. Others may not like the corporate position of this council but that is your role," he added.

Alderman Drew Thompson then clashed with the Mayor accusing him of "showing bias" and "not conducting yourself in a manner befitting of Mayor."

"It is very very clear that the 30,000 in this city who are unionists are not on the same wave length as you or you're not on the same wavelength as them. You need to take stock," he said.

 The UUP's Mary Hamilton said Mayor McHugh was not "representing me, my party or unionists in this city." Rounding up the debate, Alderman McClintock said that on a personal level she found Mr McHugh to be "very courteous".

"I do think that although there was corporate position of council that you are hiding behind it. To go and be photographed as part of a Sinn Fein delegation is a step too far.

"It's a sad day when a Mayor cannot commit to carrying out your role in a sensitive manner for the rest of your time."

Before putting the motion to the vote, Mayor McHugh pointed out that it was not a Sinn Fein delegation and that other elected representatives were supposed to attend.

Tony Taylor was jailed for 18 years in 1994 over a bombing but was released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. He was again jailed in 2011.

The former IRA man had his licence revoked in March of last year and he was sent back to jail.

Earlier this year, the council also passed a motion supporting calls for Mr Taylor's immediate release.

The DUP motion fell after the majority of councillors voted against it. A recorded vote returned a 23 against and 8 for result.

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