A DEBATE on car parking charges in the Borough turned into a spat between the Ulster Unionists and the DUP at Craigavon Council meeting.
With the focus mainly on Portadown, Lurgan barely got a mention (although the charges also apply here) as both parties laid blame with various Stormont ministers regarding the parking charges.
After a heated exchange the Council finally decided to set up a meeting with five Assembly ministers in a bid to review the latest car parking charges.
Ulster Unionist Cllr Colin McCusker accused the DUP of “simply having a pop at DRD Minister Danny Kennedy”, whose Department imposed the charges throughout Northern Ireland.
And he pointed out that DUP MLAs, Aldermen Sydney Cairns and Stephen Moutray, had supported the hike of fines for illegal parking from £60 to £90.
The debate arose after a notice of motion proffered by DUP Cllr Gladys McCullough calling on Mr Kennedy to scrap the charges, adding that they would have a devastating effect on struggling businesses in Portadown centre.
“It’s easy to sit in Stormont and impose these charges,” she added. Her DUP colleague Alan Carson pointed out that Minister Kennedy had proposed imposing charges on 25 car parks throughout Northern Ireland, “and promised consultation”. He added, “He didn’t make one single concession, which shows the consultation process is a sham. The move was simply revenue driven, without a thought for the plight of traders.”
Cllr McCusker claimed that the proposal was simply a cheap shot at Mr Kennedy, adding that the DUP should know better, given that every government department has to live strictly within its budget.
“Town centres are not the sole responsibility of one government department,” he added. “This rests with Nelson McCausland (DUP), the DSD Minister, Arlene Foster (DUP), the Minister for Enterprise and Alex Attwood (SDLP), the Environment Minister.” He also stated that Sammy Wilson (DUP), the Finance Minister held the purse strings in the “dysfunctional Executive”.
Alderman Sydney Anderson retorted that he had voted in favour of the increase in fines, but this had nothing to do with the footfall in town centres.
Sinn Fein’s Gemma McKenna tabled an amendment that the charges should be “reviewed” rather than scrapped, and after a series of complicated votes, the McKenna amendment was accepted on the casting vote of Deputy Mayor Arnold Hatch.
Finally, Councillor George Savage came in with an amendment that they should request a meeting with the five Ministers - Kennedy, Foster, Wilson, Attwood and McCausland - and this was unanimously agreed.
“We’ll be lucky if we get them all,” said Alderman Hatch. “But we’ll do our best.”
Cllr McCusker had said: “If this is the route we are going down, we will find ourselves debating nonsensical notices of motion month in and month out, just so that one political party can have a pop at the other. What’s coming next month? A notice of motion calling for the completion of Millennium Way, a notice of motion calling for a footbridge over the rail crossing in William Street, or a notice of motion calling for a new health centre in Lurgan.”
He accused the DUP of ‘petty political point scoring, just to grab a headline and to have a dig at fellow Councillors’.