The Sinn Fein mayor of Newry who called for businesses to boycott Israeli goods has been accused of lacking the courage of his convictions after he failed to say a word on the subject before a vote of no confidence in him.
Daire Hughes remained seated and silent last night at a meeting of Newry Council during which his unionist colleagues urged him to apologise or resign as the borough’s first citizen.
Afterwards his party issued a Press release on his behalf.
The 24-year-old, who is the youngest ever mayor of Newry, wrote to businesses in the border city last month on council headed paper telling them they should stop selling goods from Israel and to send him an inventory of any such products they stocked.
He had not consulted the council before sending the letters out.
Since then, a second letter has gone to businesses from the council clarifying that Mr Hughes (right) had been writing in a personal capacity.
Ulster Unionist councillor David Taylor proposed a motion of no confidence in the mayor last night.
He told the council he had received complaints from ratepayers about the contents of the letter Mr Hughes sent out, describing it as “sinister”.
In the end, the motion was defeated by 21 votes, with three voting for and three abstaining.
Speaking after the meeting, Mr Taylor told the Belfast Telegraph that unionists had never expected to win the vote, but felt very disappointed that Mr Hughes had hidden behind his colleagues, refusing to say anything during the meeting.
“It is ironic in itself that the mayor did not even have the guts to speak during the debate to defend his apparent convictions in respect of the issue,” he said.
“Despite the outcome of tonight's vote, it was important that councillor Hughes, and indeed other Sinn Fein representatives, were reminded that we do not live in some form of autocratic North Korean-type regime where they believe they can dictate to traders or indeed the general population alike how they go about their daily business.”
Ukip councillor Henry Reilly also lent his backing to the motion, adding that the small Jewish community in Newry felt like the letter was an attack on them, and accused Mr Hughes of being “belligerent and sinister”.
SDLP councillor Michael Carr said Mr Hughes had been “at least naive” to send the letter out without the permission of the council.
“Maybe he should consider at least apologising, I think that would go a long way,” he told the council.
However, Sinn Fein councillor Barra Ó Muirí slammed the motion as “silly”, and defended his party colleague’s action and drew attention to the situation in Palestine where 2,000 people have been killed by Israeli forces since July 8.
Only three out of the five unionists on the council were present last night. All voted for the motion.
Three SDLP councillors abstained, while the remaining SDLP members, Sinn Fein representatives and two independents voted against the motion.
Mr Hughes was co-opted on to Newry and Mourne Council in January, and was voted in as mayor after just a few months serving as councillor. He failed to be re-elected at the council elections earlier this year.
Although Mr Hughes did not speak during the meeting, in a Press release issued by Sinn Fein later in the evening he lashed out at Mr Taylor’s motion as “politically motivated”.
“It was also not about Gaza. This motion was tabled and supported by those who are opposed to Sinn Fein,” he said.