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The war of words has continued today following claims by Cllr Roisin Mulgrew, Chairperson of Newry, Mourne and Down Council that she was subject to “abusive and aggressive behaviour” at last nights full council meeting in Downpatrick, where a motion requesting the council’s commitment to a 15-acre community park project on the Albert Basin site in Newry failed to get discussed in the council chamber but was instead diverted to a committee.

Cllr Pete Byrne attempted to gain support for suspending standing orders for the motion to enable it to be discussed and voted on in the  chamber but with all Sinn Fein and DUP councillors voting against he failed to get the necessary 80% support.

Over 20 Campaigners at Meeting

The motion put forward by Alliance Cllr Patrick Brown, SDLP Cllr Gary Stokes, Ulster Unionist Councillor David Taylor and Independent Cllr Jarlath Tinnelly was the last item on the agenda at the monthly council meeting and over 20 supporters of the 15 Acre park campaign squeezed in to the public gallery to listen to democracy in action.

Campaigners present a petition with 11,000 signatures requesting a 15 Acre Public Park at the Albert Basin in Newry to Cllr Roisin Mulgrew, Chairperson, Newry, Mourne and Down Council and Council Chief Executive, Liam Hannaway.  Included from left are Aoife Hollywood, Oliver McGauley, Cllr Mulgrew, Mr Hannaway; Brian Cleland, Chairman, Newry 2020; Caiden Meaney Bradley, Sarah Meaney and Peter Maxwell.  Photograph: Columba O'Hare
Campaigners present a petition with 11,000 signatures requesting a 15 Acre Public Park at the Albert Basin in Newry to Cllr Roisin Mulgrew, Chairperson, Newry, Mourne and Down Council and Council Chief Executive, Liam Hannaway. Included from left are Aoife Hollywood, Oliver McGauley, Cllr Mulgrew, Mr Hannaway; Brian Cleland, Chairman, Newry 2020; Caiden Meaney Bradley, Sarah Meaney and Peter Maxwell. Photograph: Columba O'Hare

"Only 13 out of 41 councillors sit on committees"

Cllr Patrick Brown speaking to Newry.ie said 'I am disappointed to hear Sinn Fein’s statement that they experienced 'aggressive and abusive behaviour' at Mondays council meeting, however as someone who lead the debate and was present for the whole of the meeting, I personally did not see or hear any such behaviour.”

The councillor went on to say why he opposed the motion being sent to committee citing that only 13 out of 41 councillors sit on committees, that committee decisions need to be ratified by full council anyway and in his opinion sending it to committee would only be a stalling tactic. Cllr Brown pointed out that none of the proposers of the park motion actually sit on the SPR committee the chair has implied it will be sent to denying them voting rights on their own motion.

Continuing Cllr Brown said “After the vote I was allowed by the chair to read out the full text of the motion only, after which the chair and several members of Sinn Fein got up to leave the chamber! I attempted to ask a point of order relating to which committee the motion would be sent to and when, pertaining to standing order 19.9 - 'a member may raise a point of order and shall be entitled to be heard immediately'. Despite numerous protests from myself and fellow councillors, none of which were abusive or aggressive, the chair and numerous Sinn Fein representatives continued to get up from their seats and walk away. This was a clear contravention of council procedure and coupled with the other actions of Sinn Fein during this meeting, it truly suggests they are not comfortable openly discussing the Albert basin park project. I would like to know why this is.”

The Alliance councillor concluded “I would also very much encourage members of the public to listen to the audio recording of the meeting and judge for themselves whether they deem the meeting to have been abusive and aggressive or simply a heated debate”

“It is extremely bad manners to scream and roar in front or over any other councillor”

During the call by Cllr Pete Byrne for standing orders to be suspended to allow the motion to be discussed Chairperson Cllr Mulgrew accused Cllr Byrne of screaming saying “It is extremely bad manners to scream and roar in front or over any other councillor” Speaking about the chairpersons comments released to the press Cllr Brown added “At no time did Cllr Byrne use language that could be considered abusive, aggressive, inflammatory or inappropriate. His actions were entirely within the rules of standing orders and his right to speak as a public representative” Another co signer of the motion Cllr Stokes added “No councillor was abusive towards the chair. The public did applaud councillors at certain points in the debate. If there is anything of substance to the chair's allegations she should make a formal complaint to the Ombudsman.”

Speaking on the accusations Cllr Byrne said "I am extremely disappointed that The Chairperson, Roisin Mulgrew, has accused myself and colleagues of abusive and aggressive behaviour during last nights motion on Albert Basin Park. At no point during the proceedings did I display such behaviour and I firmly stuck to council procedures open to me through standing orders. At one point the chair asked me to watch my language, however, this was a diversionary tactic to open the door to playing the victim here. As the audio recording will back up, there was no substance for the chair to make this statement and I found it very worrying that she did.”

Cllr Byrne continued “The chair claims she was 'verbally attacked ' for facilitating agreed council standing orders and that all councillors knew council rules wouldn't allow a vote to take place, however I strongly disagree. Under the standing order 16.1(6) which the chair refers to, it states 'if the subject matter of any motion given comes within remit of committee it shall stand referred without discussion at the committee. The chairperson presiding may, if he/she considers it necessary to the dispatch of business, allow the motion to be dealt with at the meeting at which it is brought forward'. My argument, and the reason I moved to suspend standing orders is that the chair had the power to allow the debate to go ahead but clearly hid behind one line in the standing order to stifle it.”

“Why would the chair claim that standing orders were not allowing her to put the motion she claims to support to debate but when given the opportunity to remove that, vote against it?”

Citing his reasons behind asking for suspension of standing orders Cllr Byrne said “I argued that the motion could be sent to 3 different committees as it falls under the remit of all 3, so the sensible thing to do would be use your power as chair and allow debate. The chair fails to be honest with the public on her ability to do so and I challenged that last night. My proposal to suspend standing orders was to remove this block that the chair felt was blocking her from allowing debate. She then had the freedom to allow the debate if standing orders were removed. However, SF voted against this proposal meaning 80% majority wasn't reached. Why would the chair claim that standing orders were not allowing her to put the motion she claims to support to debate but when given the opportunity to remove that, vote against it?! I refer to past motions this year that were heard at full council and could have been sent to committee under the same standing order used last night: the motion on establishing a health committee could have been sent to SPR or AHC committees, the motion on car parking in Newry could have been referred to RTS committee, and many more. These motions were allowed to be debated at full council as the chair had the power to make that happen, last night should have been no different.”

“it would have been beneficial for everyone concerned to have had an open and transparent debate on the park project”

Cllr David Taylor who co-signed the motion said "A proposal to suspend standing orders which I considered to be very reasonable was placed before Councillors last night and it is extremely disappointing that this was rejected by some parties on the Council.

"Had this request been supported by all parties, it would have permitted a full discussion to have taken place regarding the park project. I consider it to be regrettable that the motion did not proceed in the way that the vast majority of Councillors desired.

"I have deep reservations about the manner in which the Chairperson handled the issue at the meeting and I believe it would have been beneficial for everyone concerned to have had an open and transparent debate on the park project. There is obviously strong support for the campaign to succeed. I therefore hope that the Council collectively can move forward in a positive
manner to achieve the outcome the local community clearly wants, which is the delivery of a public park in Newry."

“Sinn Fein do not yet support the concept of a People's Park on the whole 15 acre Albert Basin site and for a party that espouses socialist values this is indeed a strange position to adopt where the stated will of the people is being totally dismissed”

Another co-signer of the motion Cllr Jarlath Tinnelly added “It was shocking how quickly the debate descended into farce last night as soon as the motion was discussed, I also believe it was unacceptable for the Park supporters to be made to sit in silence for two hours and then be subject to the 15 min circus that followed.
This showed nothing but contempt for those supporters and indeed the 11,000 people who cared enough to sign the petition.

“Surely the most appropriate forum to discuss this very important proposal was in front of the full council where all councillors would have a say on the issue, rather than divert it off to one of the statutory committees and one is left to conclude that this was done for no other reason than to kick it down the road and hope that momentum towards delivery of the park is lost as a result.

“Last nights performance makes it obvious that despite confusing statements to the contrary, Sinn Fein do not yet support the concept of a People's Park on the whole 15 acre Albert Basin site and for a party that espouses socialist values this is indeed a strange position to adopt where the stated will of the people is being totally dismissed.

“We will continue to push the case for this site to be fully utilised as it was originally intended when it was given to the people in 1986 and we will continue to resist any attempts to see it sold off to the commercial sector.”

“We are delighted that a clear majority of councillors now support a 15 acre park”

Brian Cleland, Chairman of Newry 2020 who have been leading the campaign locally for a 15 Acre park at the Albert Basin commenting on the council meeting said “We are very disappointed that the Chairperson chose not to allow the park motion to go ahead last night. Despite claims to the contrary, council rules make it clear that such a decision is entirely at the discretion of the Chair.

“A subsequent attempt to suspend standing orders and allow the motion to proceed was opposed by Sinn Fein and the DUP. The accusations of abusive behaviour that have been made this morning are to the best of our knowledge baseless. On the contrary, the behaviour of the park supporters was exemplary.”

Mr Cleland continued “These claims seem to be an attempt to distract from the fact that a 15 acre park for Newry was blocked by a minority of councillors last night. Ultimately, It is up to those who voted against the park motion to explain their actions.

“Despite the petty tactics on display last night, we are delighted that a clear majority of councillors now support a 15 acre park. It is sure only a matter of time before the demands of Newry people for a world class city park are finally recognised.”

"As I left the building I had to run the gauntlet to escape harassment from members of the public gallery."

In a statement released to the press Chairperson, Cllr Mulgrew stated ““The abusive and aggressive behaviour directed towards me tonight from members of the public and other elected Councillors, as I adhered to Council procedures, is a disgrace.

“Tonight I was verbally attacked and harassed for performing my legal duties and facilitating agreed Council standing orders.

"As I left the building I had to run the gauntlet to escape harassment from members of the public gallery.

“This behaviour is despicable, and is unprecedented in the modern history of Newry, Mourne and Down District Council.”

You can listen to a recording of the meeting at www.newrymournedown.org with the Albert Basin Park conversation coming in about 1:47

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