MOYLE Council’s controversial ‘twinning’ arrangement with Gaza in the Middle East has been withdrawn.
The issue unfolded at Moyle District Council’s meeting, where Cllr Colum Thompson (Sinn Fein) highlighted the “renewed indiscriminate air and ground attacks from Israel, into our twin the Municipality of Gaza”, and asked that “Moyle District Council expresses our total repulsion at these actions and reiterates our solidarity with the besieged people of Gaza”.
This immediately prompted protests from Unionist councillors. Cllr Robert McIlroy (DUP) said: “We are dealing with terrorists. We should not be associated with that”. He called on the Council to withdraw from its “alignment” with Gaza.
Joan Baird (UUP) said she wanted to express sympathy to both sides involved in the “bloody, awful, conflict” but the Council needed to remain impartial and focus on issues on its own doorstep.
“We need to put local people first and step away from being international players”, she said.
TUV’s Sharon McKillop called the Sinn Fein proposal “imbalanced” and “distracting from matters that really affect the area”.
Independent Councillor Padraig McShane, who has been the architect of the twinning arrangement, said he was “disappointed” by the motion as he said the twinning was a humanitarian rather than a political gesture.
At his request, the Sinn Fein motion was withdrawn.
However, a vote to withdraw from the twinning arrangement was then taken. The initial vote resulted in a tie (seven in favour, seven against) but the Council Chairperson, Cllr Sandra Hunter (UUP), exercised her casting vote to break the stalemate.
Cllr McShane said the vote to remove the winning arrangement as “disgusting for the children of Gaza”.
After the meeting TUV councillor Sharon McKillop, in a statement to the Times, said: “Having campaigned on the issue since the twinning of Moyle Council with Gaza was first suggested I greatly welcome the fact that the Council voted to end the arrangement.
“A proposal put forward by Sinn Fein’s councillor Thompson expressed “solidarity” with the people of Gaza but containing no mention of the bombing of a bus in Tel Aviv - which was applauded by the Hamas regime in Gaza – was up for debate.
“There were over 600 missile attacks from Gaza on Israel this year before the recent Israeli military action. All 600 of these attacks were aimed at civilians. Again this was ignored by the Sinn Fein motion.
“Thankfully, however, the motion presented the Council with an opportunity to vote on the twinning arrangement again and I am delighted to be able to say that due to proposals put forward by Councillor McIlroy and seconded myself the Council passed a resolution ending the twinning arrangements between Moyle and Gaza.
“This arrangement was unnecessary and extremely divisive. It alienated the Unionist population of the area from the Council and was an unwelcome distraction. I welcome the fact that it has come to an end.”
North Antrim TUV Assemblyman Jim Allister added: “This is a welcome development. I know that the twinning arrangements were a great source of annoyance to many ordinary people in the area. In fact, I suspect that the annoyance the issue caused Unionists was the chief reason why Nationalists pushed ahead with it. Sharon was worked hard on this issue and I am delighted with the result of last night’s vote.”