SDLP takes harder line on Israel than Sinn Fein as its councillors line up alongside dissidents to call for Israeli ambassadors to be kicked out

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A bloc of the SDLP has taken a harder stance on opposing the Israeli state than Sinn Fein, as its councillors lined up alongside dissident republicans to call for the expulsion of the Israel ambassadors to Ireland and the UK.

The vote took place on Wednesday at a meeting of Derry City and Strabane District Council.

The motion, which had been moved by the People Before Profit councillor Shaun Harkin, read as follows: “Council will write to the Irish and British government [sic] to support the call for an immediate cessation of the bombardment and genocidal siege of Gaza and for the immediate expulsion of Israeli ambassadors.”

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Earlier in the meeting, a more generic statement had been passed – put forward by SDLP councillor Brian Tierney – condemning the killings of civilians in both Gaza and Israel and taking of hostages, and calling for the pursuit of a two-state solution.

The flag of Israel, and the logos of the SDLP and Sinn FeinThe flag of Israel, and the logos of the SDLP and Sinn Fein
The flag of Israel, and the logos of the SDLP and Sinn Fein

More on this subject from this reporter:

When it came to councillor Harkin's expulsion motion last night, it passed by 12 votes to eight, with 17 abstentions.

Due to the poor quality of the video feed from the meeting, and the inability of the council to confirm how the councillors voted (despite the vote being tallied up one-by-one by those in the chamber), it was not immediately possible to list all the 12 councillors who voted in favour.

However, by phoning around today, the News Letter understands that all SDLP members present had voted in favour, alongside three independents, two of whom have been described as dissidents.

The motion was universally opposed by the UUP and DUP.

Sinn Fein (which has 18 members on the council) abstained.

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The three independents who backed the motion were Gary Donnelly, Paul Gallagher, and Raymond Barr.

Councillor Donnelly has often been dubbed "dissident" in outlook in the press.

He was twice arrested by police probing the murder of Sinn Fein informer Denis Donaldson. He was never charged with any crime.

He has ties to the 32 County Sovereignty Movement (32CSM), which has a history of opposing the Good Friday Agreement as "fundamentally undemocratic, anti-Republican and unacceptable".

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Among 32CSM's past members was now-dead Real IRA leader Michael McKevitt.

Councillor Donnelly spoke at the 32CSM's 2022 Easter service, and is a former spokesman for the outfit.

Fellow independent Paul Gallagher has likewise often been described as a "dissident".

In 2017, the Irish Times said he had previously stood for the IRSP (the INLA's political wing) and he is "proud to call himself a dissident republican – but, he stresses, one who is opposed to violence".

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He declined to condemn a car-bombing of Londonderry city's courthouse in 2019.

The other independent supporting the motion was Raymond Barr.

An Irish News interview with him last December says he is a former Sinn Fein member who considers himself a left-of-centre republican.

In the wave of the vote on Wednesday, he posted this barely-punctuated message on Facebook saying that he is considering quitting:

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"I don’t know if i could continue as a councillor and sit with those who put power and prestige before humanity, those who post the Israeli ambassador be expelled from Ireland(as he should) and then like a naughty schoolboy remove the post when teacher tells them,

"Some things are more important than power,humanity and the plight of the the Palestinian people is one of them,don’t let anyone or any party cause you to compromise your beliefs,career politicians corrupt,grow a set of balls and stand up for right rather than please your paymasters, some of our dead must be turning in their graves."

The "naughty schoolboy" comment is apparently a reference to Sinn Fein MP Chris Hazzard, who had made such a post last week then deleted it:

In the wake of Sinn Fein holding back from calling for the expulsion of the ambassador, the DUP had hypothesised that this was because the party did not want to alienate its American base – America being by far the biggest ally of Israel.