Jeff Dudgeon: I don’t dislike Alliance, I disagree with a party that preaches consensus yet rushes to back partisan SF policies

Unionists are in the minority in Belfast City Council. "Alliance  preaches consensus yet, in council, rushes to support partisan or dangerous Sinn Fein policies," writes Jeff Dudgeon
Unionists are in the minority in Belfast City Council. "Alliance preaches consensus yet, in council, rushes to support partisan or dangerous Sinn Fein policies," writes Jeff Dudgeon

Councillor Michael Long, the leader of the Alliance Party in City Hall, avers in his responding letter (The council bonfire motion was indeed urgent, August 8) that I am mistaken over the special council meeting on bonfires but fails to explain why.

Events since he wrote have however proved me right and made his bleatings seem even more irrelevant.

If the Alliance Lord Mayor had refused the Sinn Fein request for a special meeting on the grounds that it was unnecessary and thus, at least, postponed it, we would have avoided the violence and arson around the anti-internment bonfires in nationalist areas of Belfast.

The issue would not have been so well publicised or toxic and council officials, who had exactly the same powers in August 2017 - before and after the special meeting - as they had in August 2016 should again have been able to remove material without hindrance.

Now no contractor will take the job in future Augusts where none is willing in July.

I don’t have a personal dislike for Alliance, as he writes, I have political disagreements with a party that preaches consensus yet, in council, rushes to support partisan or plain dangerous Sinn Fein policies.

It also disturbs me that Cllr. Long believes I am “carrying out a bizarre personal vendetta against Alliance,” and find his wording disappointing.

In relation to personal, he may have noticed that every Unionist councillor has opposed his bonfire policy.

That is not a vendetta. That is politics.

I will say I have been disappointed by his actions in bringing about the removal of the council’s Diversity Working Group, of which I was chair, mid-way through the Decade of Centenaries, and his blocking of a memorial to the 1,000 victims of the 1941 Belfast Blitz at City Hall which I proposed and which council supported.

Now that is bizarre from an Alliance Party leader. Indeed he seems to be the one in vendetta mode.

Cllr. Long misses the point about me describing the calling of a special meeting as ‘costly’. I was referring to the time, money and effort by officials, and indeed councillors, required to put it together and to attend.

He writes that “the amended motion was to restore the existing powers of council. The only reason this meeting was even needed in the first place was due to the refusal of unionist councillors to support the continuation of that policy.” This is completely false. Unionist councillors, who are in a minority, do not and did not have the power to end the pre-existing policy.

When Sinn Fein ramped up the issue and stopped certain remedial measures, we supported alternate efforts to restrict the size and extent of bonfires on council property.

The Long-supported motion contained the fantasy that officials were being given the power to go round willy-nilly collecting bonfire material. But council still has limited legal powers and in the short term can only ever exercise them with consent. Once the issue was exacerbated that consent vanished.

In any other political forum, resignation after such a fiasco would be the order of the day when, instead of discreet removal of bonfire material, by virtue of the issue being ramped up, we did not have oversized bonfires, we had buildings and cars set on fire.

Councillor Long should review his leadership position.

Jeffrey Dudgeon (UUP Councillor), Belfast