Alliance motion to ban all paramilitary murals defeated as UUP gains cross-party support for alternative
A bid by Alliance to set up a multi-agency group to remove all paramilitary murals and memorials was defeated at Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council meeting.
Instead an amendment, by the Ulster Unionist Party, calling on the NI Executive to publish the Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition (FICT) report was carried.
The initial motion, tabled by Cllr Peter Lavery and seconded by Cllr Eoin Tennyson called on the council to set up a working group with elected representatives and public agencies with the aim of removing all illegally-erected paramilitary facades, memorials and murals in the ABC area.
Ulster Unionist Cllr Louise McKinstry, who proposed the amendment, welcomed support from the DUP, SDLP and Sinn Fein.
Cllr McKinstry said her party’s amendment called for the publication of the report by the Commission on FICT – on which all five main parties were represented - and which is currently with the Executive Office at Stormont. “The UUP is on record as stating that we want to see the FICT Report published as soon as possible.
“Our amendment also provided the opportunity for Council to seek input from the Justice Minister who heads the Political Action Group as part of the Executive’s Programme for Tackling Paramilitarism, Criminality and Organised Crime.
“We do not see any merit in the Council going off on its own and seeking to reinvent the wheel, when FICT in particular has already examined these issues in some detail and held several public consultation events across NI and the Justice Minister is already chairing a forum which is designed to tackle paramilitary and criminal activity and no doubt can assist.
“Our amendment is aimed at delivering results and improving life for the people of Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon, and the level of support it received from all other parties with the exception of Alliance, indicates that we are on the right track.”
Alliance Cllr Eoin Tennyson said: “If passed in full this motion would have laid a direct challenge to paramilitary symbols and murals, by establishing a cross-agency working group where elected representatives, Council, statutory agencies and government departments could come together to consider a way forward with the aim of removing these illegal displays.
“It is extremely disappointing that Council was unable to unite around such an approach. Instead of showing real leadership, other parties opted to amend the motion to remove any substantive commitments or tangible action.
“The FICT Report – if it is ever released by the First and deputy First Ministers – will absolutely feed into such work. However, we do not need a report to know that these displays are wrong and should be consigned to the past. Nor should we use it as an excuse to shirk our existing responsibilities or kick the can even further down the road.
“Alliance will continue to speak up for residents who have been failed for too long. They shouldn’t have to put up with these displays 23 years on from the Good Friday Agreement. We will continue to raise the issue until they no longer have to.”
SDLP Cllr Ciaran Toman said: “First and foremost, we in the SDLP agree with the spirit of both the original motion and the amendment. As elected representatives, we all have a responsibility to work and contribute together to create the fair, equal, tolerant, and respectful society which we want to see.
“However, the only credible way of us as a council and as a country that deals with these difficult issues effectively, is for the Executive to publish the FICT report and act on its recommendations. This document will be an important tool in identifying pathways where we can make progress on these very issues which the motion calls on.
“We must be very circumspect that as a council we do not do anything different than what this report will suggest. The Ulster Unionist amendment is a more effective and constructive way on how we approach these issues that actually can deliver for the people of the borough.”
Sinn Fein Cllr Liam Mackle said: “We were happy to support the UUP amendment calling for the publication of the FICT report. The original motion from the Alliance Party’s Peter Lavery and Eoin Tennyson was ill conceived and naive. Alliance were seeking council to take the lead in removing all murals and memorials across all of ABC. These are very difficult issues which the Executive has been dealing with and any approach must have buy in from the communities involved.
“Once again the Alliance party have shown themselves to be disconnected from working class communities and the reality of life. The partition of our country has caused division and conflict in our society, we all, including the Alliance Party, need to address the real issue at the heart of these difficult issues.”
DUP Group Leader Mark Baxter said: “The public paid for this report therefore it should be published. Our team in Stormont is pressing for this but SF has set preconditions.
“We’re in the business of building a Northern Ireland where everyone’s culture is respected, where there is zero tolerance for paramilitaries and where money poured into divided communities can be redirected to better frontline services.
“Republicans have worked endlessly to stir up division rather than end division. Whether it is snubbing the Royal Family, opposing the Union Flag, protesting against loyal order parades, celebrating the PIRA or objecting to the centenary of Northern Ireland being marked, SF have shown repeatedly they are most comfortable when creating division.”
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