The Gaza SPLIT

MOYLE Council split as nationalist councillors backed a proposal to ‘twin’ with the Gaza strip but Unionist councillors and Independent Randal McDonnell failed to back the move, writes Nevin Farrell.

A majority of councillors backed the plan and now the official twinning document needs to be signed to make it a done deal.

The proposal was brought to the Council by Independent councillor Padraig McShane who visited the Gaza Strip last year as part of an aid convoy.

When he recently brought the proposal to the Council he didn’t get it passed when the SDLP failed to support when they asked for further information.

But when the Gaza twinning was raised last week the SDLP were onboard and the party’s two councillors in the chamber voted for the move along with three Sinn Fein councillors, Padraig McShane and Independent Seamus Blaney.

Voting against were Ulster Unionist Willie Graham, DUP councillor Robert McIlroy and Independent Randal McDonnell. Council Chairperson, Independent Price McConaghy abstained.

After the meeting, Councillor Padraig McShane issued a statement which said: ‘The Moyle-Gaza Twinning Group has committed itself to have Moyle Council incur no costs to the ratepayer. An ‘in kind’ contribution of human resources is all that the group requires with the monies to deliver humanitarian work being delivered by the group itself.

‘Moyle Council took a decision tonight that was truly historic. They have committed themselves to become the first Council in Ireland to Twin with Gaza City. It comes as no surprise as the Moyle area is steeped in a charitable tradition. Work has been carried out throughout the world with some Moyle luminaries who engaged in helping those less fortunate in Bosnia, Romania and sub-Saharan Africa to name but a few.

‘I would like to reiterate the Moyle Gaza Twinning group’s desire to keep the focus on this historic decision, ‘Non Political and solely Humanitarian’. We have drawn support from right across the community, both here in Moyle and further a field. We hope to tap into that support and build on it in the future.

‘We would request that all those involved in politics and certain sections of the media refrain from attempting to portray this historic decision by Moyle District Council as anything other than humanitarian support for the people of Gaza.

‘I would like to thank all those who contributed to the debate this evening and I would hope that the few councillors who were ‘ill at ease’ with the collective decision taken tonight can approach the group to find out more about our plans for the future,’ said the statement.

During the Council debate, Ulster Unionist councillor Willie Graham asked if “not a penny” of ratepayers’ cash would be spent on the project and Cllr McShane said the only resources being asked for is a small amount of time from council staff to help with projects and Cllr McShane said the Antrim-Gaza group will raise their own funds.

DUP councillor Robert McIlroy said he did not agree with Moyle Council getting involved with Gaza as he said there are an “awful lot of other countries that would need support in this way”.

Cllr Graham said humanitarian aid is also needed in Tripoli.

Independent councillor Randal McDonnell wanted to know what benefits there will be for the people of Moyle and Cllr McShane said there will be several benefits but the most important would be being able to give humanitarian help to Gaza.

Cllr McDonnell said: “People are suffering in Japan. Why don’t we support them?”

Sinn Fein councillor Cara McShane said Council support for the twinning will make it easier for the Antrim-Gaza group to obtain funding.

A number of Unionist councillors were absent from the chamber and Cllr McIlroy said the ‘twinning’ decision should not be made by a “half Council” and he felt councillors were “being led up the garden path”.

Cllr McShane said: “People are trying to throw a spanner in the works here, there are no real costs to it.”

Cllr McDonnell was backed by Cllr McIlroy in asking for the decision to be put off for the new Council to take after the May 5 election.

Cllr Blaney said: “I feel that if this group had come in and asked to twin with Israel they would have got it straight away.”

A vote calling for the ‘twinning’ to be put back to the new Council was taken and four councillors - Independent Price McConaghy, Randal McDonnell, Willie Graham and Robert McIlroy voted in favour but seven councillors voted against and when it came to a vote to go ahead with the twinning - the same seven councillors - Cllr Padraig McShane, Cllr Oliver McMullan, Cllr Cara McShane, Cllr Cathal Newcombe (all Sinn Fein), Independent Seamus Blaney; Cllr Madeline Black and Cllr Catherine McCambridge (SDLP) voted for and three against - Willie Graham, Robert McIlroy and Randal McDonnell.

The following work is planned as part of the ‘Twinning’:

* Training and visit exchange in a wide range of aspects related to municipal services and administration, particularly urban planning and public space management, GIS development, and solid waste management and recycling, local economy development.

* Urban planning - Cooperation for the urban development of Gaza City Beach; Cooperation between Gaza city and Moyle District Council for the concept of the proposed ‘Moyle Peace Park’ in Gaza city.

* Environment - Pilot project: Recycling of organic waste for agricultural use in Gaz; Study for the development of the Gaza seaport.

* Science, cultural and tourism - Cultural exchanges, exhibitions, handicrafts preservation, artistic and cultural groups performances, and joint summer camps; Enhance cooperation between schools in Gaza city and Moyle District: Promote culture, dialogue and friendship ties between the people of both cities.