Claims made at first meeting of Belfast City Council's Brexit committee
Political parties have been accused of using Belfast City Council resources for campaigning.
DUP councillor Lee Reynolds made the claim at the first meeting of the council’s Brexit committee on Thursday.
The committee has been set up to look at what implications the UK leaving the European Union on March 29, 2019 will have for Belfast.
Committee chair Seanna Walsh (Sinn Fein) opened the inaugural meeting by telling members that its terms of reference include reflecting on areas of impact Brexit may have on Belfast, including economic and funding.
The first order of business was a motion of support for the so-called backstop option.
The EU has proposed a backstop which would mean Northern Ireland remaining with the EU customs union, large parts of the single market and the EU VAT system.
However the UK suggests a backstop would see the UK as a whole remaining aligned with the EU customs union for a limited time after 2020.
The motion at the council committee was proposed by Sinn Fein councillor Arder Carson, who described the backstop as an “insurance policy”.
He emphasised it should not be diluted, but rather extended.
The SDLP and Alliance Party backed the motion with minor amendments.
SDLP councillor Donal Lyons told the committee the backstop was the “bare minimum”, describing it as a “safety net that we shouldn’t fall beneath”.
But unionist parties opposed the motion.
DUP councillor Brian Kingston directed his comments to the Sinn Fein members, accusing them of “using the council”, because they are “boycotting” Westminster and the Assembly.
“EU negotiators and the UK Government are not waiting for the verdict of Belfast City Council before making their next move,” he said.
“Sinn Fein could have influence at Westminster which they boycott, or in the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Executive ... but there is a triple boycott going on.”
Mr Reynolds described the discussion as “just ridiculous”, arguing that the committee had been given a remit and claimed the proposed motion and discussion went beyond it.
“What we have is political parties using council resources for their political campaigning,” he told the committee.
Sinn Fein councillor Ciaran Beattie hit back, saying his party runs for Westminster on an absentionist ticket, and claiming that the Assembly remains collapsed due to “DUP scandals” and the party “refusing rights”, including for Irish language speakers and equal marriage.
The motion was passed by 10 votes to 7, with Sinn Fein, the SDLP and Alliance voting for, while the DUP, UUP and PUP voted against.
Later in the meeting, Ulster Unionist councillor Jeffrey Dudgeon proposed that the committee review the role of Belfast’s Port Health Unit following the UK’s departure from the EU.
“The Port Health Unit at Belfast Harbour Estate is currently approved to act on behalf of the EU as a Designated Point of Entry,” his proposal reads.
“It also currently controls high-risk products of non-animal origin imported from outside the EU and is approved as a Border Inspection Post for the examination, sampling and clearance of third country imports of products of animal origin.
“Given the changes after Brexit when the Unit may have to inspect direct imports from all the current EU states, as well as non-EU countries, the proposed review of its role and options will need to involve forward planning for various outcomes.”
Belfast is the first council in Northern Ireland to have a dedicated committee to look at the potential impact of Brexit.
Council officers have been tasked with assessing the impact that Brexit may have on its services, and are undertaking an audit of services to identify the nature and extent of potential impact on funding, personnel, procurement/contracts and legislation.
The committee is next due to meet on September 20.