Councillors chose the run-up to tonight (Monday)’s scheduled birthday bash for a discordant clash that saw chairman, Olive Mercer, moved to threaten an early adjournment for the second time in recent months.
In the end Councillor Mercer did bring the October monthly meeting to a comparatively hasty close, this while Chief Executive Liam Hannaway advised members of the council’s 40th birthday photo-shoot to follow, all the while struggling to make himself heard as the Ulster Unionists traded barbs with the DUP across the chamber.
But that was a secondary spat.
Earlier unionist sparring began with a motion, proposed and seconded by the DUP’s Councillor Hazel Gamble and Councillor Junior McCrum, essentially supporting the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Further Provisions and Support for Victims) Bill, which recently had its second reading at Stormont.
There was some concern, from the otherwise supportive Brendan Curran (SF), Marie Hamilton and Seamus Doyle (SDLP) and Sheila McQuaid (All), over the wording of the motion - as read by Councillor Gamble - where it insisted statistics didn’t reflect the scale of the human trafficking problem in Northern Ireland, something the council could not necessarily stand over, they suggested.
But it was when Ulster Unionist Councillor Carol Black introduced the subject of the National Crime Agency (a UK-wide organisation likened to the American FBI but opposed locally, in its current role, by Sinn Fein and the SDLP) that the discussion started coming to the boil.
Councillor John Hanna (UUP) proposed an amendment to the effect that, “this council calls for the full establishment of the NCA to the whole of the United Kingdom”, thereby, the amendment added, giving “real meaning” to the motion before council.
So began a fencing match, chiefly between the UUP and Sinn Fein, over the relevance of the NCA to the motion in hand, while the DUP appeared eager only to see the original motion pass unhindered, Councillor Jim McElroy at one point suggesting in vain that should the Ulster Unionists introduce a separate motion backing the NCA they would, of course, support it.
A strident Mr Hanna brought standing orders to bear in slapping down suggestions from the DUP ranks that the substantive motion be put to the vote ahead of any amendments; his own amendment, and a second from party colleague Councillor Glen Barr (seeking to change the wording of the motion so that the council would ‘support the principal of’ rather than ‘endorse’ the Human Trafficking Bill) were dismissed by nine votes to six and nine votes to seven respectively.
Councillor Carol Black admonished the DUP contingent for “going against their own party”, calling to them, “You’ve joined ranks,” - this with a sweep of her hand in the direction of nationalist members.
When the original motion was subsequently put to the council it was agreed unanimously, but in voicing disappointment at the tone of the preceding debate, Councillor Gamble prompted Ulster Unionist protests, chiefly from an “absolutely astounded” Councillor Black, who insisted that they were in a debating chamber and debate was what it was for.
A resentful Mr Hanna called on Ms Gamble to withdraw her remarks, even as Mrs Mercer warned of possible adjournment and pressed ahead with remaining business.