Protest staged over new Council Community Planning project

Protestors gathered outside the Guildhall while a Community Planning event was staged inside.
Protestors gathered outside the Guildhall while a Community Planning event was staged inside.

A large section of Derry’s population will have no representation on a major new community project being rolled out by the Council, a number of community workers and representatives have claimed.

Community based workers from across the city came together with several Independent Councillors on Friday under the banner ‘Concerned Citizens’ to protest at the way in which the Community Plan had been formulated.

The protest was staged at the Guildhall, while inside the building the new Interim Community Planning teams for each electoral ward joined council officers, Councillors from mainstream parties and representatives from statutory bodies who are feeding into the new initiative.

The Transition Community Planning Partnership is a £multi-million investment project by the Council aimed at tackling issues affecting each electoral ward, and the Council, responding to the concerns raised over meetings to elect local community representatives in the Ballyarnett, Moor and Foyle wards on Thursday, has said that the process was fair and inclusive.

On Thursday evening community worker Stephen Donaghey withdrew his nomination to chair the Foyle branch of the Community Plan at a meeting in Rosemount Factory, in protest over events that had unfolded in the other two wards earlier in the day.

Mr Donaghey, who works with Time 2 Choose based at Rosemount Resource Centre, speaking at the protest on Friday, said: “I have been working in the community for over 22 years and I also attended the one in Pilot’s Row earlier to see what the structure was and it was an absolute farce.

“You had people shouting over the Council representative, you had people shouting over the top of elected representatives. It turned into a shouting match.

“You had people coming in and says they didn’t even know why they were in voting or what they were in to vote for. People were taxied in to vote and they didn’t know what they were voting for,” he claimed.

Mr Donaghey said at the Rosemount event he had enough to win the vote but felt he could not properly represent his community given the circumstances.

“I knew after the meeting at Pilot’s Row I couldn’t put my hand up and say the process is working.

“We are trying to bring the communities together and all this was doing was divisive and trying to separate them. Parts of the community now do not have a voice.”

Independent Councillor Darren O’Reilly, who attended the events at Pilot’s Row and Rosemount last Thursday, said at the protest: “There’s no Independent Councillors represented on this so technically there is nearly 15% of this Council area who are disenfranchised by the process within Derry City & Strabane District Council.

“I’m not allowed to go on there as a political representative to represent the people.”

Colr. O’Reilly said Independent Councillors have repeatedly raised concerns and challenged the way in which d’Hont was deployed for setting up different bodies within the Council.

A statement was issued by those who gathered at the Guildhall Square protest on Friday.

The statement claimed the community events were not advertised in the press- a claim the Council disputes.

They further claimed there was a “democracy deficit in that council have failed to fulfil the principles of democracy in their practices and operations”.

“Moreover in subsequent discussions there was a broad consensus among many attendees that the process employed by council was inherently flawed, open to abuse and an affront to any notion of transparent community engagement”, the group stated, adding:

“If Council is to ensure optimum engagement with the wider public it needs to ensure it targets those with the greatest level of disconnect.”

A spokesperson for Derry City and Strabane District Council said that a number of meetings are currently taking place in District Electoral Areas to facilitate the appointment of interim chair positions to the Transition Community Planning Partnership in each electoral area.

The spokesperson went on to confirm that a Chair has successfully been appointed to seven out of the eight areas to date.

“From the outset, Derry City and Strabane District Council has encouraged widespread engagement with the Community Planning process working with community, statutory and political representatives from across the district and thousands of citizens on a local community level,” she said.

“All discussion around the new city and regional strategic community plan has been open and inclusive and the selection process for the interim chair positions has reflected that. The same selection process has been implemented throughout all community areas to ensure that all appointments are fairly and accountably managed.

“Throughout this process Council has endeavoured to promote inclusion by keeping the public well informed regarding all meetings and community engagement events, and to engage with the wider community as much as possible.”

She added: “This activity has included widespread advertising in local press, online forums and the regular issuing of updates on our website and social media platforms. We also communicate directly with local community and political representatives with the expectation that information about public meetings is circulated widely on a local level.

“Anyone who has any concerns about the wider community planning process is invited to contact Council directly.”