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Council waives fee for pro-Israeli lobby group

By Gemma Burns

A pro-Israeli lobby group will hold an event at Newtownabbey Borough Council headquarters next month free of charge after the council voted to waive the fee normally charged to outside groups. The Friends of Israel group had applied to the council to hold a showcase event in March and show a film on the history of the Jewish people in the Middle East and North Africa.

The council’s development committee agreed on Tuesday night the event could go ahead and they would be waiving the usual fee they charge to hold events in council offices.

The decision was criticised by Sinn Féin councillor Gerry O’Reilly, who voted against the proposal, saying inclusion rather than a partisan approach is needed in these instances because of the delicacy of the situation in the Middle East.

“The proposal to waive the cost of council facilities for the Friends Of Israel is simply wrong and gives this lobby group preferential treatment over others and hard pressed Newtownabbey rate payers are footing the bill,” he said.

“Sinn Féin have met this group and made clear our views on the need for an inclusive process to resolve the conflict in the Middle East.

“We fully support all views being expressed on an equal basis but using council facilities comes at a reasonable cost which raises vital revenue for our work in the borough.”

The councillor added he believes the decision not to charge the group a fee would not be supported by many ratepayers.

“The heated exchanges in council last night demonstrated the deeply held views on this conflict but offering to waive the cost for this lobby group isn’t a balanced approach,” he said.

“There are many groups that wish to use council facilities and are in financial difficulties at present and waiving costs must be the exception. However waiving the cost for Friends Of Israel is a partisan political move and wouldn’t be supported by many local rate payers.”


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