Atrocities debate after Holocaust Memorial Week minute’s silence motion at Derry & Strabane Council meeting
A proposal asking for a minute’s silence to mark Holocaust Memorial Week was followed by a debate which some elected representatives called ‘disgusting’, suggesting some councillors should ‘hang their heads in shame’.
Alliance Councillor Philip McKinney made the proposal for the minute’s silence during Chairperson’s business, saying: “Deputy Mayor I would ask that you allow council to hold a minute’s silence to remember all those who have perished through acts of genocide since the Second World War – China, Rwanda, Cambodia, Bosnia and Dhofar.”
Independent Colr Gary Donnelly made an amendment saying: “I agree it should be done but I would also include in that list something which is pre-Second World War and that’s an Gorta Mór, some may know it as the Irish Famine which I also believe was genocide.”
Whilst supporting the original proposal, UUP Alderman Derek Hussey commented: “The initial proposal is with regard to genocides which have occurred since World War II and whilst I understand Cllr Donnelly’s position, I could include the 1641 massacre of Protestants in Ireland and many other events.
“To accept this amendment denigrates, in my opinion, the initial proposal so I will not be supporting the amendment.”
Agreeing with the initial proposal, DUP Alderman Maurice Devenney added: “The proposers of the amendment called the famine a genocide but we all know the history of the famine but Deputy Mayor we could not support the amendment.”
The amendment carried with 28 votes for and five against.
Colr McKinney said: “I can’t understand why there are some people within this chamber and the remote chamber as well who have pushed to make this into a political debate. If they felt so strongly about the amendment why did they not come in and amend again and talk about the Scottish Land Clearances and I should also point out what happened with the famine was both Protestant and Catholic families so to make it a political statement is ludicrous and they should hang their heads in shame.”
Alderman Hussey came back, proposing a further amendment which read ‘being mindful of how close our society came to a genocide during the so called Troubles, we also condemn the attempted genocide of Protestants along the Fermanagh and Tyrone border by republican terrorists.’
Colr McKinney stated he was ‘totally disgusted’ that his proposal had become a political debate and it had become a case of ‘them and us’.
“It’s the old blame game again,” he added. “I just wish the politics could be taken out of it and just concentrate on the atrocities that had been carried out and put in the motion.”
Colr Shauna Cusack said if the debate continued in the same vein she would abstain.
“It’s no disrespect to the original motion or amendment to the motion,” she said. “It’s going to go down that avenue of tit for tat and I feel for everyone who has been a victim of war or Troubles or genocide that we have experienced in this part of the world. It’s going to get ridiculous and the public listening to this are going to say ‘there they go again, they are there to discuss business that affects us in this council area and here we are green and orange, us and them’ – it’s disgusting.”
Welcoming Colr McKinney’s original motion, People Before Profit Cllr Shaun Harkin said: “Cllr Donnelly is within his right and our right to add in the Great Hunger, it shouldn’t have been an issue.
“I feel very determined as someone who has a Jewish partner who celebrates Jewish cultural traditions that we have a minute’s silence to remember the victims of the Holocaust, it still remains a pivotal moment in human history and one we should say over and over again – never again.“Unfortunately there are many people who want to take us back in that direction. We should say we stand in solidarity with all people who faced genocide and faced attempts to annihilate them.
“I would urge that if Alderman Hussey wants to stick with his amendment that people reject it because it is just toxic.”
Taking exception to comments about tit for tat, UUP Alderman Ryan McCready stated: “The Famine was deeply reprehensible and there was no excuse but to try and piggy back on motion after motion, it leads to no end.
“It’s troubling and disturbing to go through this sort of cycle but to call each other or people’s perspective ridiculous is pointless and disingenuous. We all have something to say and we all represent lots of people out there. This has opened a real can of worms.”
SDLP Colr Brian Tierney said: “We will not be supporting the amendment. I have no issue in saying I condemn the genocide of Protestants along the Fermanagh and Tyrone border by Republican terrorists but I also condemn the genocide of Catholics across the North by loyalist and British terrorists and I find it absolutely appalling that anyone would want to bring in and talk about victims of the conflict this week.”
Alderman Hussey’s amendment fell before the substantive motion passed with votes 30 for, 1 against and 3 abstentions.
The chamber subsequently stood for a minute’s silence.
Commemorations have been held across the world this week to remember the victims of the Holocaust.
Among those who attended the Regional Commemoration in Northern Ireland were members of the local Jewish community and representatives of other faith groups and minority ethnic communities.
Local Democracy Reporter