Belfast Telegraph

Uproar at Moyle District Council over Gaza plan

By Lesley-Anne Henry

A council meeting was halted this week as a row over twinning a north coast resort with Gaza escalated.

The chairman of Moyle District Council has been accused of trying to "gag" elected members over their opposition to the twinning agreement after he dramatically halted a meeting this week.

Tempers flared during a discussion on an invitation issued to the mayor of Gaza and members of the Palestinian Authority to travel to Moyle to sign the twinning document in October.

Independent chairman Padraig McShane, who last year drove a van full of medical aid to the Middle East troublespot, banged his gavel, suspended the meeting on Monday night and walked out after unionist members raised concerns about the offer, which they claim was made without full council approval.

"I was speaking and making a point that the chairman didn't like," said Ulster Unionist councillor Joan Baird. "He was trying to gag me and prevent me from making my points, which were factual. I couldn't believe that he wasn't allowing the democratic process to take place. I most certainly am opposed to the twinning and will do all I can to persuade the council not to proceed with this foolish arrangement.

"Any help that is to be provided to Gaza should be done through internationally recognised aid agencies. There should be no link with the Government.

Mr McShane sparked controversy when he proposed to twin Moyle with Gaza in March. He said the decision was based on humanitarian grounds and claimed he eventually hoped to build a 'Moyle Peace Park' in Gaza city.

Among those opposed to the link-up is Traditional Unionist councillor Sharon McKilop.

However, last night Mr McShane told the Belfast Telegraph: "New councillors need to learn to conduct themselves in a proper manner that is befitting of Moyle District Council."

A decision on twinning has been deferred to allow the council to seek legal advice.

Background

In March independent councillor Padraig McShane tabled a motion to have Moyle twinned with Gaza.

The former Sinn Fein man is a member of the Antrim to Gaza group that travelled to the war-torn region last year on a humanitarian mission driving a van full of medical equipment and supplies.

The proposal has split the council.

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