Muslim ‘slur’ left out of council minutes

CONTROVERSIAL comments made by a DUP councillor about Muslims did not appear on that meeting’s minutes ‘for legal reasons’, Craigavon Council has been told.

As revealed in the Mail, DUP Cllr Alan Carson said Muslims were ‘causing bother in the Middle East’ and the British Army represented all sides “Protestant, Catholic, Hindu, Jew, Muslim whatever - well, maybe not Muslim”.

Mr Carson had been speaking during a notice of motion on the signing of the Community Covenant.

After, Mr Carson retracted the comments saying: “I realised immediately that I’d put my foot in it and apologised without reserve.”

However the remarks were not recorded as part of the minutes of that meeting. When this was queried by Sinn Fein Cllr Mark O’Dowd, it was revealed that ‘after equality and legal advice it was advised that the text should be removed’.

However the chief executive of Craigavon Council said she did not have ‘written legal advice’ on the matter.

Sinn Fein Cllr Mairead O’Dowd said local media had covered what was said however it was missing from the minutes.

Sinn Fein’s Cllr Johnny McGibbon said it was not ‘good enough that the accuracy of one of our meetings has been edited’ and asked why they had not been furnished with the legal advice.

DUP Alderman Stephen Moutray accepted the reasoning of the chief executive and accused Sinn Fein of ‘dancing on the head of a pin’.

“Councillor Carson made a mistake and we all make mistakes,” he said.

Cllr O’Dowd asked to speak on the issue again however Mayor Carla Lockhart refused saying he had already spoken three times on this issue.

“Democracy again,” said Cllr O’Dowd.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr O’Dowd said: “I am extremely concerned that comments widely reported in both regional and local press, were not included in council minutes. In the interests of reflecting the accuracy of the meeting, the comments and Cllr Carson’s subsequent apology and retraction should have been included. There is absolutely no dispute that the comments were made.”

Mr O’Dowd queried the legal and equality advice which had led to the comments being excluded.

He said: “Having been informed by council officers that legal and equality advice were the basis for not including a Councillor’s comments, I have now requested that this advice be shared with all councillors. Sinn Féin will be asking officers to explain on what basis, or on whose instruction, they felt it necessary to seek advice regarding minute accuracy.”

He concluded: “It is worrying that comments which significantly impact on the accuracy of the public record would be omitted in this way. It was upon proposal by Sinn Féin that the accuracy of the council minute was not adopted.”

Former Mayor Mr Carson had previously told the meeting: “Sinn Fein are trying to score a political point out of a comment I made in error.

“When I realised that I had been misunderstood I immediately apologised and withdrew the remark. But that wasn’t enough for Councillor McGibbon. I utterly deplore racism of any form. My Christian faith teaches me that everyone is equal.

“Our Armed Forces stand up for democracy regardless of race or religion. They fight for those of all faiths and none. I’ve apologised for my misunderstanding. Given that republicans still can’t apologise for 40 years of murder, they are not in the best place to lecture me about using a clumsy form of words.”

The Mail asked Craigavon Council for the legal reasons why the minutes were edited, who had instigated the request for legal advice and how much the advice had cost the rate payer. The Mail also asked for the original minute and a statement from the chief executive.

A spokesperson for Craigavon Council said: “Council won’t be making any comment.”