Outrage at delay on climate debate

Outrage at delay on climate debate

5 June 2019

INDEPENDENT and Alliance councillors have criticised a decision to refer debates on climate change and working to reduce suicide rates across the district to zero to a Newry, Mourne and Down Council committee.

Downpatrick Independent councillor Cadogan Enright and Rowallane Alliance councillor Patrick Brown had hoped the issues would have been debated at Monday night’s monthly meeting of the full council, but both were referred to the Planning and Active and Health Communities Committees respectively for discussion.

The ruling was made by the local authority’s Sinn Fein chairman, Charlie Casey, who also decided that a motion tabled by his party colleague, Willie Clarke, to ban sugary foods and drinks from vending machines on council property, would also be referred to the Active and Healthy Communities Committee.

Cllr Casey explained that as Cllr Enright’s motion referred to the local authority’s development plan, it was being referred to the Planning Committee as it had responsibility for this particular issue, a point reinforced by the local authority’s chief executive, Liam Hannaway.

Unhappy with the council ruling, Cllrs Enright and Brown tabled separate unsuccessful proposals for the local authority’s standing orders — which dictates how it conducts its business — to be suspended to allow their respective motions to be heard.

They argued that given the serious nature of the issues they wanted to to debate, the discussion should have taken place at full council level with all members present.

Describing the decision to defer his motion as “outrageous”, Cllr Enright argued that it was for councillors to give direction to the Planning Committee, not vice versa. 

He said he would formally propose his motion “under protest” but was deeply unhappy it was being referred to committee level, arguing that Sinn Fein “had lost its way on climate change”.

Cllr Enright continued: “The decision not to debate this issue tonight is ignorant of the likely impact of rising sea levels on our 160 miles of coastline. There is no understanding of the need to prepare our infrastructure over the next 10 years for the electrification of transportation. 

“Sinn Fein is unaware of the benefits to businesses and farms in our district from producing local renewable energy and completely misses that fact that we are in the midst of a new industrial revolution with huge opportunities for high-paying jobs in our area and a slew of major projects to support our future rates income, lifting the oppressive effect of increasing rates on our struggling High Streets and ratepayers.”

Cllr Brown said the suicide motion should also be debated at full council level, arguing there was no reason that there could not be “open and transparent debate”.

He continued: “We are currently in a mental health and suicide crisis. There is also a climate crisis which is why Cllr Enright’s motion should also have been discussed this evening. The council chairman is belittling these issues by sending them to committees.”

Cllr Brown claimed that what happened on Monday night was a further illustration of yet more attempts to silence the voice of the council’s Alliance and Independent members.

“Both the motions on climate change and reducing suicide rates to zero are both vitally important issues and frequently brought up as priorities for ratepayers and included tangible, practical actions for how Newry, Mourne and Down Council could play a direct role in addressing the issues locally,” he said.

Cllr Brown suggested that the “tactic” of referring motions to committees was being used by council chairmen to “minimise the amount of open and transparent debate”, suggesting that motions were one of the best ways for smaller parties and independents to be heard and represent the views of their constituents.

Cllr Brown added: “I believe there is a clear attempt to silence minority voices in council, carrying on from previous votes by all four bigger parties last month to exclude us from key council groupings.

“This is no doubt a result of the stellar electoral performance enjoyed by Alliance and independent voices across the district in the last election.”