A BID by Ulster Unionist councillor Joan Baird to get Moyle Council to ‘revoke and totally disassociate’ itself from a ‘Twinning Arrangement’ with Gaza failed on Monday night (March 26).
The 15-member nationalist-controlled council previously supported twinning on March 12 when seven councillors - all nationalists - backed the proposal and six councillors - five Unionists along with Independent councillor Randal McDonnell - voted against.
On Monday night Cllr Baird called on the Council to change its decision.
Supporters of the ‘twinning’ say it will bring humanitarian aid to Gaza but opponents believe the move makes a one-sided political statement in the Middle East conflict.
Cllr Baird said: “This (original) resolution came in a week when there was an escalation of deadly violence and terror in the Palestinian-Israel conflict. We should not take sides or lend support to one party in what is essentially a war zone.
“Any tangible help must be channelled through the international aid agencies who are experts in this field. The proposed ‘Twinning’ will not promote good relations in our community in Moyle. We should now revoke the decision taken on 12 March 2012 without delay,” said Cllr Baird.
The original proposal to twin Moyle with Gaza was first tabled by Council Chairperson, Cllr Padraig McShane (Independent), who previously went with aid to the Middle East with the ‘Antrim to Gaza’ group.
On Monday night as seven nationalists - three Sinn Fein (Cllrs Cara McShane, Margaret Anne McKillop and Noreen McAllister), two SDLP (Cllrs Donal Cunningham and Catherine McCambridge) and two Independents (Cllr Colum Thompson and Cllr Padraig McShane) - voted to continue twinning with Gaza and six Unionists (three UUP - Cllrs Willie Graham, Sandra Hunter and Joan Baird), two DUP (Cllrs Robert McIlroy and David McAllister); one TUV (Cllr Sharon McKillop) along with Independent Randal McDonnell voted against the link, Chairman McShane used his casting vote to ensure the twinning remains in place.
Independent Seamus Blaney, who had previously voted for the Gaza link, was not present at the meeting.
Cllr Baird said the Gaza twinning had created “nothing but division in the Council and wider community” and she said the whole-hearted support of the population is needed for any twinning to be successful.
TUV councillor Sharon McKillop said legal advice said twinning should be able to achieve cross-community support and that was not the case.
Cllr Padraig McShane said he was happy to give more information to councillors about the twinning and said that “might ease a lot of resistance to it”.
He said councillors had to respect the “democratic will” of the Council.
Cllr Colum Thompson said: “This has been debated for a long time. It has gone to a vote two meetings in a row and it should be left of the agenda for a year unless new information is brought forward”,
Cllr Sharon McKillop insisted the move is part of a “political agenda and nothing to do with humanitarian aid”.
Cllr Joan Baird said so many people are opposed to the twinning that an Equality Impact Assessment is needed on the issue.
Cllr McShane said he had no bother with such an assessment being carried out as he claimed the humanitarian aid for Gaza had support from all sections of the community.
But Cllr Baird said the nature of the vote in the Council chamber surely reflected differently.
The Council is also to look at the issue of ‘standing orders’ which would govern whether attempts can be made at subsequent meetings to over-turn earlier decisions.
Cllr Robert McIlroy said good community relations in Moyle have been “awfully blighted” by the Gaza debate but Cllr McShane said both he and his Vice-Chair, the UUP’s Cllr Sandra Hunter, work as a team.
Cllr Willie Graham said the Council has now become a “cold place” for Unionists and he added: “This whole charade over Gaza has put community relations back many many years”.