BANBRIDGE Councillors clashed tonight (Monday) in an emotionally charged and, by local standards, dramatic debate that saw the council carry a motion condemning the recent comments of one of its number.
Brendan Curran was on the receiving end of the local DUP motion responding to a Leader article in which the Sinn Fein councillor described what came to be known as ‘The Troubles’ as “necessary”.
No sooner had the DUP’s Jim McElroy proposed the motion than the SDLP contingent left the chamber, refusing to take part in what Councillor Seamus Doyle, who had unsuccessfully sought to speak before its introduction, described as “a sham”.
Mr. Doyle considered the proposal of the motion “ridiculous”, he said, given the DUP/Sinn Fein relationship at Stormont.
The Ulster Unionists predictably backed the four-point motion, which urged the council to “condemn the comments of Councillor Curran, in which he described the so-called ‘armed struggle’ as ‘necessary’; recognise that these comments have caused hurt and widespread offence throughout the community; call upon Councillor Curran to withdraw the remarks and apologise for them and re-affirm its support for the police, courts and rule of law.”
The party’s Councillor John Hanna successfully proposed an amendment adding a fifth strand to the effect that “This council reaffirms its absolute commitment to the declaration we all made when we stood for election of (sic) this council and enshrined in the Elected Authorities NI Act of 1989 and the Terrorism Act of 2002” – in which, it’s understood, councillors undertake that they will not, by word or deed, express support for acts of terrorism.
A string of Unionist councillors from both sides of the chamber followed Mr. McElroy in condemning Councillor Curran’s comments, many citing cases of personal loss as well as the killing of Banbridge police officer Stephen Carroll and last week’s murder of prison officer David Black as they spoke of The Troubles’ lasting legacy of pain and grief and gave voice to “disgust” at the Sinn Fein representative’s comments.
In a particularly passionate protest - spurred, she said, by the many constituents who had contacted her about Mr. Curran’s comments - Dromore Ulster Unionist Carol Black demanded of the Sinn Fein councillor, “How dare you say it was necessary; it was not necessary.”
In earlier answering the motion - which was brought collectively by Mr. McElroy and DUP colleagues, Councillors David Herron, Hazel Gamble, Junior McCrum and Paul Rankin - Councillor Curran accused them of electioneering.
He had made it quite clear in The Leader article, he said, that in no situation was the death of innocent people justifiable, but as to his opinions as otherwise expressed, for someone to ask him to withdraw them was to ask him to tell a lie; people were entitled to disagree, he said, but it was his belief.
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, he said, had laid a wreath in the Republic of Ireland on the graves of IRA dead, in doing so acknowledging that the IRA was a legitimate force. Also, an Agreement had been reached that saw the DUP and Sinn Fein work together at Stormont. Sinn Fein, he said, had taken a position and put it before their people; some others seemed to have problems in doing that.
He claimed that having inherited an impressive array of economic achievements when they came to power locally, the DUP had gone on to preside over decline and it was “disgraceful” that they should try to use the issue at hand to make up for lost ground.
Mr. Curran later insisted he would have had no problem supporting the UUP amendment had it been a stand-alone motion and he condemned the “emotional blackmail” in councillors’ choice to reference the murder of David Black, which had no bearing whatsoever, he said.
“If we want to live in the past,” he said, “that’s where we deserve to be. If we want to move forward we need to be open and honest.”
With the council poised to vote on the motion an overlooked and clearly angry Alliance Councillor Sheila McQuaid, who would be the only councillor to vote against, said she had been indicating a desire to speak but had been ignored; it was a disgrace, she said, that not once had she been asked for comment.
“What is this,” she asked, “some sort of hanging Unionist gather-up against someone who spoke about something? It happened. It’s in the past. It happened and a man is as entitled to his opinion as you are to yours.”
Council chairman, Councillor Junior McCrum, apologised to Mrs. McQuaid for the oversight and put the motion to the vote. With the SDLP absent and Mr. Curran and his party colleague Paul Gribben abstaining, the motion was carried by 12 Unionist votes in favour, to Mrs. McQuaid’s single vote against.