Council party leaders to meet over ‘bad relations committee’

Mid Ulster District Council is to host a party group leaders’ meeting in an effort to ensure unionist councillors feel it is worth attending the local authority’s good relations working group.

Council’s equality scheme 2021-26 requires that meetings of the corporate good relations working group are held with the purpose of promoting good relations in areas such as flags, emblems, language, bonfires and street naming.

The issue was raised at council’s monthly meeting last week by the chair of council’s policy and resources committee, UUP councillor Derek McKinney.

“Obviously there is no other opinion than a nationalist one that is being given at that working group and I wonder where we are at trying to address that and make it more welcoming to other sections of the community,” he said.

Walter Cuddy

Council’s head of democratic services, Philip Moffett, told the chamber the working group is made up of 10 councillors from all political parties that sit on council.

UUP group leader, councillor Walter Cuddy, said that in his view an outsider would not be of the opinion the working group, in its current guise, was an attempt to “improve relationships between communities within Mid Ulster” and called for a meeting of party leaders to find a way forward.

“As Ulster Unionists we feel the working group is simply rubber stamping what this chamber says on anything and our views are not taken on board at all,” he said.

“We have to find a better way to find more harmony on this. That is why I was seeking a way for the party group leaders to sit down with a coffee and try and find a better way of respecting each other’s views.

“I go back to where this all started, we asked for two lights to be lit at our civic buildings for a weekend to represent the Queen’s jubilee and Sinn Fein and the SDLP turned it down.

“To me if we cannot get lights put on over a weekend to represent somebody important to our section of the community what hope does this council have in having good relations and that is why we call it the ‘bad relations committee’.”

Sinn Fein councillor John McNamee said he would like to see unionists attend the working group meeting but warned against the idea of a party group leaders meeting running parallel to this working group.

Council’s chair, councillor Paul McClean, told the chamber he was one of those who chose not to attend the working group but confirmed that as chair, he will take the lead to try and resolve the situation.

“I will facilitate a meeting of party group leaders. I am not going to promise anything because I can’t, but I will initiate that under the chief executive’s guidance,” he said.