Belfast Telegraph

Shouting match as councillors lock horns over Alliance leaflet

By Rebecca Black

A Meeting of a Belfast City Council committee yesterday descended into a shouting match between the DUP and Alliance over a leaflet distributed by one of the latter party's councillors.

In a fierce war of words, the DUP's Christopher Stalford and Alliance's Michael Long shouted over each other in anger.

Meanwhile, the DUP's Brian Kingston accused Alliance's Nuala McAllister of distributing a "disgraceful" leaflet.

Mr Long accused the unionist parties of bullying Ms McAllister before committee chair Declan Boyle of the SDLP brought the meeting to order.

DUP, UUP, PUP and SDLP councillors all expressed concern over a newsletter-style leaflet distributed around north Belfast by Alliance.

It asked what councillors from those parties had to hide - alongside a photograph of a jar of money - after they voted against making audio recordings of council meetings.

Some 31 Belfast councillors, including SDLP and unionist representatives, have signed a petition accusing Ms McAllister of breaching the code of conduct for council members.

The leaflet referred to the unionist parties and the SDLP voting against placing audio recordings of committee meetings on the council website.

Those parties said they voted the way they did on the basis of legal advice.

Despite the shouting match, at the end of the heated discussion councillors agreed to review the policy of placing recordings of committee meetings on the City Hall's website.

Mr Kingston claimed the leaflet carried the "innuendo of financial corruption and bribery".

The matter is currently being investigated by the Northern Ireland Ombudsman.

It was brought up at yesterday's meeting of the strategic policy and resources committee by Ulster Unionist Chris McGimpsey.

Mr McGimpsey had first raised his motion expressing concerns over recording committee meetings at the planning committee, but said he had been told to bring it to the strategic policy and resources committee.

He said councillors had received legal opinion that while it was not illegal to record committee meetings and place the recordings online, it was not advisable.

The UUP councillor claimed that the Alliance leaflet had "clearly brought councillors into disrepute".

Mr Kingston then said his party had voted against recordings on the basis of the legal advice and that his party stood by that decision.

Ms McAllister told the committee that she believed other councillors were embarrassed.

"I just want to put on record I will not be apologising," she told the committee.

Mr Long then said he felt Ms McAllister had been treated by some unionist councillors in a way that he could only describe as bullying.

"On a number of occasions we feel this has strayed over the line," he told the committee.

Mr Long also questioned why Antrim and Newtownabbey Council had been recording committee meetings and placing the audio online for some time with no objections from the parties who are objecting to the same policy in Belfast.

Sinn Fein councillor Deirdre Hargey said she felt councillors should "hang their heads in shame" over the bad-tempered display at the meeting, describing it as "pathetic".

"It was nearly easier discussing the flag decision than this," she said, referring to the rows over the decision to stop flying the Union flag from Belfast City Hall 365 days a year.

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