Row brewing over council Brussels trip

Margaret Tinsley and Robert Smith.
Margaret Tinsley and Robert Smith.

A row is raging in the ABC council over the “waste” of thousands of pounds as councillors queue up to make the trip to Brussels.

Council officers recommended, in the strategy committee, that one officer and one council member should fly off to Brussels to discuss multi-million-euro schemes for the north-south Eastern Border Region (ESR). The group embraces ABC plus two other district councils in Northern Ireland and three in the Republic.

The row developed in the strategy committee where officers recommended that one officer and one councillor should travel. But Councillor Thomas O’Hanlon (SDLP) proposed that each party should send a member each, along with a senior officer, the chief executive Roger Wilson, or his representative – a total of seven.

Councillor Margaret Tinsley (DUP) felt there was no need to send anyone, but was willing to compromise. But the committee vote was 10-6 for the O’Hanlon proposal.

When Councillor Tinsley raised the issue in full council, she was voted down, with UUP, Sinn Fein and SDLP supporting the increased numbers, with DUP and David Jones from UKIP opposed. Neither party plans to attend.

Mrs Tinsley said, “It’s a waste of ratepayers’ money to send so many. After all, there are six council areas in the ERS and one-and-one from each is more than enough.

“If all six followed ABC’s example, there would be 42 at the Brussels lobbying meeting. That’s a nonsense and misuse of ratepayers’ money.

“All the parties in ABC are united in obtaining this money, and an inter-party delegation isn’t necessary.”

Mr O’Hanlon, though, pointed out that 43 million euros worth of projects were at stake, including improvements to the Ulster Canal cycle path (6m euros) and help for small businesses (16m euros)

“There are six vital projects under consideration, and we must lobby hard. The more voices the merrier. But if certain parties are not going, that’s their prerogative.”