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‘Gobbledegook’ and language of division in council

By Ciara Quinn

In the Council Chamber

A HOT and heavy monthly meeting of Belfast City Council lay in store last Tuesday night as our elected representatives took to their pews.

Councillors, press and public alike entered through the back entrance of City Hall – the front was a no-go area due to an enormous stage being erected for the MTV Awards. With notepad and pen at the ready just in time for the start, I suddenly noticed new cameras dotted around the chamber. It was a dummy run before Council goes live on the net next month, we were informed.

Do our ratepayers really want to see close-up how their elected representatives conduct themselves in the chamber? “Big Brother will be watching,” smiled Lord Mayor Niall Ó Donnaghaile, “so be on your best behaviour.” Easier said than done at a Belfast City Council meeting.

First to rise  was the SDLP’s Pat McCarthy, who called into question the issue of security at the City Hall.

“This building has been broken into twice and a report has been circulated – but it tells us nothing,” he said.

The UUP’s Jim Rodgers echoed Cllr McCarthy’s sentiments: “We need to get serious about security,” he said. “£11 million was spent on this building and I’ve never been happy with it – lots of windows don’t close, doors are left open all over the place – it’s a shambles.”

Councillors were united when discussing the benefits a rapid transit system will bring to the city and also on the issue of reducing rates for small businesses who are continuing to bear the brunt of the gruelling recession.

Sinn Féin’s Máirtín Ó Muilleoir spoke of how elected representatives should follow the lead of Finance Minister Sammy Wilson in his response to the tough tactics of retail giant Tesco and he added that small businesses must be supported.



It was all actually quite civilised until the UUP’s Davy Browne said Cllr ó Muilleoir was talking “gobbledegook” when he stood to address the Lord Mayor as Gaeilge.

“Can he not speak in English and then Irish as I don’t understand what he’s saying – youse are the people who are trying to push Irish down my throat,” he said, “I didn’t know where I was for a minute.”

Cllr ó Muilleoir spoke of the united message Belfast city should project when welcoming a delegation from the Irish Technology Leadership Group this weekend – at which point the DUP’s Brian Kingston angrily accused Cllr ó Muilleoir of using the language of division in his weekly column for this newspaper group.

“In the past you have used the terms bigots, rednecks and backwoodsmen in your newspaper column, yet you speak of a united message in this public arena. Does that not expose hypocrisy?”

Fellow DUP man Christopher Stalford added his two bob’s worth by telling Cllr Ó Muilleoir: “I wouldn’t cast aspersions on your character on the internet – it’s one thing I would never do.”

Two motions brought before Council were described as “mischievous and backwards  and having absolutely no place here at City Council” by the DUP’s Robin Newton.

Perhaps not suprisingly, Sinn Féin had proposed the motions, calling for the immediate resignation of Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson, and for the British government to honour its public commitment given during the Weston Park talks  for an independent public inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane.

Alliance’s Mervyn Jones thought the first motion pointless.

“We know Al Hutchison is going in January,” he said.

That motion was lost by one vote – with 23 for and 24 against.

The second motion, calling for a public inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane, created the most divisive and heated moments of the night.

South Belfast Sinn Féin Councillor Deirdre Hargey was told to resume her seat  by the DUP’s Christopher Stalford as she stood to back the motion.

With a lot of fiery backwards and forwards from the benches, the motion – with an amendment by the SDLP’s Tim Attwood – was passed.a

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