Independents join Irish Unity working group on Derry & Strabane Council

The composition of a Derry & Strabane Council Irish Unity Working Group is to be broadened to include independent representatives.

Monday, 31st May 2021, 10:01 am

A number of Independent Councillors initiated a Call-In process to challenge a decision taken back in April, saying: ‘We believe the democratic mandate of the Council will be better served by including a broader number of Councillors, including Independent Councillors, in the working group. It will also better serve our efforts toward shaping Council objectives.’

Council solicitor Philip Kingston addressed members saying; “You may recall that at the Council meeting on Thursday, April 29, 2021, a Notice of Motion was passed in relation to the establishment of a Working group on Irish Unity. In the course of the debate, an amendment was proposed by Councillor Gallagher which was seconded by Councillor Barr.”

The amendment called for the working group to ‘include all parties and independents within Council’, and a Call in was submitted in May.

Independent Councillor Paul Gallagher.

PBP Colr. Shaun Harkin, one of the co-signers of the Call-In, proposed the decision be overturned. He said the motion came about due to “discussions happening about constitutional change, about what a united Ireland would look like, about a border poll and so on”. “At the heart of the motion was the idea of consultation with people across the north west. I think the consultation would be better served if we have the broadest possible representation of Councillors involved,” he said.

Sinn Féin Colr. Conor Heaney seconded the proposal adding: “There was never any attempt in bringing forward this motion to exclude anyone as was being alleged. We recognise fully this is a working group like no other, in many ways it is a unique set of work, we are discussing the constitutional future of this island and this Council district and it would be useful for everyone to be involved in those discussions.”

Colr. Heaney also expressed disappointed that the unionist members have said they won’t be part of that group.

SDLP Colr. Martin Reilly agreed the working group should be ‘open to as wide a group as possible’ and encouraged ‘our unionist Alderman and colleagues here to be part of that’.

Independent Colr. Paul Gallagher said: “There was nothing alleged around this motion that came forward on Irish unity, around exclusion on the motion itself. Irish unity needs to include everyone in the discussion, whether people are for it or against it, it needs to include everyone.”

Claiming that Irish unity was ‘no nearer now than it was in 2016’, DUP Ald. Hilary McClintock said: “The DUP will be abstaining from this vote. The benefits of being part of the UK have never been more tangible than they are now. There will certainly be no cross-community consensus on this motion.”

Referring to the exclusion of minority groups, Independent Colr. Gary Donnelly said: “Whatever way people want to dress this up it was minorities that were excluded and are excluded from working groups and if it continues my opinion and the opinions of some of the people who voted for me won’t have an input into something that is very fundamental and very, very important. I think the self-exclusion of another minority, the unionist minority on this island will be very detrimental to this working group.”

The proposal to overturn the decision from April 29 and accept Councillor Gallagher’s amendment carried with 28 votes for, 5 against and 3 abstentions.

By Gillian Anderson

Local Democracy Reporter.