Pandemonium engulfed Belfast City Council last night after a dispute over a football scarf flared into a remarkable row.
The scenes erupted midway through a speech by DUP councillor Ruth Patterson, who had been setting out a light-hearted motion hailing the success of Linfield manager David Jeffrey.
A fan of the club herself, she produced a Linfield scarf and draped it around her neck as she read a tribute to the outgoing boss.
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But after a while Jim McVeigh, the Sinn Fein group leader, rose to his feet to make a point of order.
He asked the chairman – DUP Deputy Lord Mayor Christopher Stalford – if it was appropriate for a council member to wear such a piece of attire in the chamber, but was told the standing orders did not provide for the chair telling councillors what they should or should not wear.
Councillor McVeigh requested that he consult with officials over whether it was allowed.
From this point on, the meeting descended steeply into chaos.
Deputy Lord Mayor Stalford indicated that he thought the matter was settled, and called on councillor McVeigh to resume his seat.
The representative for the Lower Falls continued to remonstrate, while the chairman insisted he must respect the decision of the chair.
“I’m ordering you to resume your seat!” said the Deputy Lord Mayor at one point, drawing what sounded like a sarcastic “oooh” from some present.
“The member (McVeigh) will no longer be heard,” declared the chairman, but the dispute still continued, with the councillors sometimes barely audible over one another.
“Sit down and stop acting like a petulant child,” said the chairman. “Are you happy you have turned a meeting of Belfast City Council into a circus?”
The row continued to rumble on. Shouts of “shame!” and “withdraw!” were heard at points.
Councillor McVeigh refused to let the point drop, and continued to insist that the chairman consult over the scarf issue.
Matters finally calmed down and the Lord Mayor himself, Mairtin O’Muilleoir, returned from an engagement to take over chairmanship of the meeting.
Alderman Patterson, still wearing the scarf, was allowed to continue with her motion, in which she praised Mr Jeffrey’s non-sectarian take on sport.
Afterwards, Councillor McVeigh said if, for example, he had worn a Celtic FC top in the meeting there would have been “uproar”, adding he supports the motion – and only objected to the scarf.
He said he will write to the council chief executive raising his concerns about the incident.
Councillor Patterson said she had every right to wear it, and branded what had happened a “disgrace”.
The motion will go to the Strategic Policy and Resources Committee to be voted on later this month.