They may be thousands of miles apart and as different as chalk and cheese, but the Causeway coast and Gaza City took a giant step closer this week.
But a vote by Moyle District Council councillors to link their picturesque area with the troubled Middle East region sparked a major fallout with the DUP, after it accused nationalists of taking advantage of a low unionist turnout to force the controversial twinning motion through.
An area of outstanding natural beauty, the stunning coastal landscape of Moyle stands in stark contrast to the war-torn streets of Gaza City, which has been under an Israeli blockade since 2007.
Independent Moyle councillor Padraig McShane says he tabled the motion on purely “humanitarian grounds”.
Just last year Mr McShane, who is a member of the Antrim to Gaza group, drove a van filled with medical aid to the troubled region. The councillor last night revealed the group which requested the twinning motion eventually hopes to build a ‘Moyle Peace Park’ in Gaza City.
The motion to twin Moyle, already twinned with Ballinasloe and the French town of Pourrieres, with Gaza was passed by seven votes to three at a meeting of the council on Monday — but the political fallout has continued.
DUP councillor Robert |McIlroy rounded on nationalist representatives, claiming Mr |McShane tabled his motion to twin Moyle with Gaza to coincide with a DUP constituency meeting.
He said: “Padraig knew on Monday night there was a DUP constituency AGM in Ballymena and he knew our councillors had to be there, meaning there would be less opposition to the motion.”
The DUP man was also angry with the SDLP’s support for the motion, claiming some members of the party had done a U-turn.
He said: “The SDLP were against the motion before, but for some reason they seem to have changed their stance.”
Mr McIlroy said he had no objection to providing humanitarian aid, but was concerned about the political situation in Gaza.
He added: “I asked the question on Monday, ‘Who is the government of Gaza’? but I didn’t get a reply. I also asked is it still being ruled by Hamas? Have they any allegiance to the Palestinian government? That gives me concern. We’re not dealing with a stable government there.
“They said there would be no expenditure to the people of Moyle over the next 10 years, but I can’t see that being the case.”
Last night Mr McShane laughed off Mr McIlroy’s claims.
“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 the group requires, with the monies being delivered by the group itself,” he said. “Moyle Council took a decision that was truly historic. They have committed themselves to becoming the first council in Ireland to twin with Gaza City.
“We would request that all those involved in politics and certain sections of the media refrain from attempting to portray this historic decision as anything other than humanitarian support for the people of Gaza.”
Moyle SDLP councillor Catherine McCambridge said she initially declined to back the motion.
She said: “Padraig McShane and two other members of the community came to see me and explained what they were trying to do. The group wants their efforts to be apolitical and don’t want the issue treated as a political football. I didn’t change my mind because of nationalist politics.”
Mohamed Al-Halabi, director of international co-operation at the Municipality of Gaza, described the people of Moyle as “truly the messengers of peace”.
He added: “On behalf of the municipality of Gaza, I would like to express our deepest thanks and gratitude for the kind support for a twinning relationship between Moyle District Council and the Municipality of Gaza.”
Gaza is a coastal city located on the eastern margin of the Mediterranean Sea, about 32 kilometres north of the Egyptian border. It is one of the oldest cities in the world. Its strategic position between three continents made it a stop-off point for trade.
The city has a population of some 450,000 people and two thirds are classed as refugees. Today, due to an Israeli blockade, fishing and farming have become the mainstay of the fragile economy. In recent years these industries have been under pressure, leading to food shortages.
Moyle District Council contains some of the world’s most breathtaking scenery. With 40 miles of golden coastline the area is one of the most famous in the world.
Destinations such the Glens of Antrim, Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, Rathlin Island, Bushmills, as well as the rugged coastline of Murlough Bay attract visitors from across the globe each year. Moyle is the smallest district council in Northern Ireland with a population of just under 17,000.
Tourism and farming form a major part of the local economy in the Moyle district.