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Councillors reject Queen’s garden party invitation – again

Thursday, 12 April 2018

A FRESH row has broken out over a decision by Derry City and Strabane District Council not to send a representative to attend a Buckingham Palace garden party.

Earlier this year, the Department of Communities had invited a council representative and their partner to attend a garden party in May-June, organised to recognise those people named on the Queen's New Year Honours List.

The matter was discussed at a meeting in January when Mayor Maoliosa McHugh declined the invitation.

A proposal then that council "should respond to the invitation using the same process used in relation to other invitations seeking nominations for representation from council ie that the invitation is extended in the first instance to the Mayor, if the Mayor is unable to attend it is extended to the Deputy Mayor and if the Deputy Mayor is unable to attend it is then extended to the chair of the relevant committee(s) and that all relevant expenses are covered by council" was put forward.

The vote was 15 for and 16 against with the Mayor having the casting vote.

A legal challenge against the decision was mounted by unionist councillors. The 'call in' process allows contentious decisons to be reconsidered if 15 per cent of councillors believe it was not properly reached or would adversely affect a section of the community.

At the monthly meeting of council it was confirmed that a call in request had been received by council's chief executive, John Kelpie, on January 19 which requires a legal opinion from a practicing barrister or solcitor. That legal opinion "remains outstanding" councillors were told.

'Protocol'

The matter was also open to debate for "further consideration". Addressing the meeting, the DUP's Alderman Drew Thompson said a "different protocol" had been used when considering the invitation and that councillors had "broken from tradition" in that the invitation should have been passed down from Mayor to Deputy Mayor and then committee chairs.

Addressing the Mayor he said: "It went to a decision and you used your casting vote - which you are entitled to do. You are supposed to be a Mayor for all the people and there is 35 per cent unionist representation in this council area who would have been willing to have a representative from this council sent there.

"There are also nationalist representatives on this council and in this area who would have been happy and are very happy and have attended some of those garden parties in the past."

He added: "A refusal to send a representative from this council is an insult, an absolute insult to the people here. I believe in the interests of integrity, in the interests of respect and in the interests of equality - which are thrown in our faces all the time - I believe that we should be reconsidering this decision and taking it on the interests of respect and equality rather than a selfish political decision."

Mayor McHugh said that Alderman Thompson had confirmed there was "absolutely nothing sectarian" about the decision and that it had been made on an "entirely different basis" which he hadn't alluded to, namely preventing ratepayers from footing the bill.

Sinn Féin's Eric McGinley said a proposal by his party in January - that any member could attend if they wished but that council would not foot the bill - "wasn't inconsistent with what we've done previously" in relation to invitations to garden parties.

 

"This council is entitled to nominate anybody to go along to those particular events including fellow elected representatives. It was on that basis that we made the proposal that that should continue as the practice and that anybody was entitled to attend but it wouldn't be at the expense of the council and ratepayers," he said, adding that he proposed that council accept the original decision taken on January 9.

Strabane independent councillor, Paul Gallagher, said there was "no sectarian element" to the decision and accused Alderman Thompson of not wanting to pay for the trip himself.

Alderman Thompson pointed out that in the past council had accepted invitations in the Republic of Ireland hosted by the President of Ireland and "it was not at any stage talked about regarding the cost" before warning councillors they needed to "be very, very careful with their comments."

Invitation

Ulster Unionist councillor, Alderman Derek Hussey, said the invitation had been extended to the corporate body.

"This was an invitation to this body corporate to be represented at an event at which many of our citizens were receiving recognition from Her Majesty so the body corporate was denied that opportunity to be there along with their citizens to express their support for them. It's not a question of the Mayor or anybody else, it's a question of the body corporate not being represented," he said.

The SDLP's Martin Reilly said that regardless of where the invite came from "it should be treated like all other invitations and the protocol that has been outlined in terms of going to the Mayor, Deputy Mayor and chairs of committees should be applied to this invitation".

Cllr McGinley's proposal to uphold the original decision was seconded by independent councillor, Gary Donnelly.

The matter was put to a vote with 20 councillors backing it and 18 against meaning no representative from council will be officially sent.

 

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