Independent candidate in the forthcoming Local Government election Iain McAfee has urged Ballymoney Borough Council to ‘wise up and stop being pernickety’ for not providing the Compass Shadow Council the use of the Council Chamber.
Speaking after he met with members and support staff last week, Mr McAfee claimed he was disgusted that it appeared the Council were using minor technicalities to prohibit the group.
“I support wholeheartedly the concept and development of a Shadow Council for people with learning disabilities which lobbies for change to policies that impact on their health and social wellbeing. I remember attending a meeting a number of years ago in Compass when the idea was being discussed prior to the application to the Big Lottery Fund and was dismayed to hear that Ballymoney Council seem to be opposed to the use of the Council Chamber for the meetings,” he explained.
Council minutes from February 2008 showed that a presentation was given by Compass staff which Council members subsequently discussed in May of the same year. A motion that the Cramsie Room of the Town Hall be provided free of charge was lost at this meeting and a subsequent full Council meeting in June. Mr McAfee claimed that he felt such a proposal was always doomed to fail as it would set a precedent for free use by other groups and organisation.
He continued: “However I would like to know why the proposal wasn’t made for use of the Council Chamber as Compass had originally asked for in their presentation? ‘It is clear from the minutes that members discussed the fact that it would not incur a cost. Also it appears that members accepted that the Shadow Council would be good for local democracy so why not show support for it by making the Chamber available?”
Mr McAfee pointed to the support by Moyle District Council, where the Shadow Council receives use of the Chamber without difficulty.
“That in my opinion is true leadership,” he added. “The move by Moyle Council shows they care and Ballymoney Council’s failure to act is actually very embarrassing. It has been suggested that there is some clause in a Council policy which prohibits external groups using it. If so, then it needs changed. In my opinion the Chamber is paid for by ratepayers and should be freely available to Shadow Council.
“I hate to sound repetitive but this is another example of the lack of support, encouragement and empathy for the community and voluntary sector of this town. It is ridiculous that an organisation that is based in the town and plays an active role in its social fabric gets a better reception in Stormont, Westminster and even the European Parliament than their own Council. If elected I will strive to address this embarrassing situation and will propose that the Council Chamber is made available to the Shadow Council.”