Hardline views grow thanks to Sinn Féin’s new rivals, says DUP man

Foyle MLA Gary Middleton
Foyle MLA Gary Middleton

Competition between independent republicans and Sinn Féin in Londonderry is producing ever more extreme politics at the local council, a DUP MLA has claimed.

This week, Derry City and Strabane District Council passed two controversial motions - one calling for a boycott of Israel and the other calling for a boycott of the Sun newspaper.

Foyle MLA Gary Middleton criticised both motions but reserved particular ire for the “message” sent out to Northern Ireland’s Jewish community by the motion on Israel.

Mr Middleton, who served on the council before leaving for the Assembly to replace party stalwart William Hay, said the council was becoming an ever colder place for unionists.

He blamed the competition between Sinn Féin and independent republican councillors on the situation.

“My main point is the fact that the council, at this minute in time, are getting carried away with the motions coming before it. There were several motions before council in the past few months that aren’t even in the remit or the gift of a local council.

“This one about the Sun, and this one about the boycott of the Israeli goods. It isn’t even just about the boycott of Israeli goods, which is bad enough, but it is also about the boycott of anything culturally, academically or economically to do with Israel. To me, that’s just discrimination. It is sending out a very bad message to the Jewish community of Northern Ireland.

“I have found that since the new super-council has been formed, they have had more and more motions like this that are controversial and have been set up to divide.

“As unionists it can be frustrating. The unionist bloc as a whole has 10 members from 40 so it is not enough to over-ride any decision.

“In the past there has always been at least a respect between parties.

“I think it is the way it is now because of the number of independents. The evidence of the past number of months has shown that Sinn Féin are looking over their shoulders at the independents, who have been bringing forward a lot of motions like this. Sinn Féin are now bringing forward their own to counteract that.”

Sinn Féin Councillor Christopher Jackson, meanwhile, welcomed the council’s backing of the motion to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Campaign against Israel.

“This campaign is a non violent response to the Israeli apartheid and occupation,” he said. “It is inspired by the South Africa Anti-Apartheid movement”.

SDLP Councillor Martin Reilly said that underpinning the BDS campaign were the values of freedom, justice and equality. “This city has a proud reputation of standing in solidarity with those who suffer abuse of human rights and against those who flaunt international law,” he said.